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SOCIETY, VIDEO (permalink) 08.30.2013
this is an issue soundly in the "getting worse" column.
we live near a university campus and the students just returned for the new school year. since their arrival i've seen multiple astonishing demonstrations of obliviousness due to "living in their phone-itis". the most glaring case being a guy who walked into a busy intersection at a snail's pace. aside from the slow shuffle of his feet, all of his attention was spent trying to block the glare of the sun from his screen. meanwhile a long stack of cars waited for him to cross the street. i'd say he's mostly lucky the person behind the wheel of the lead car wasn't doing the same thing he was, otherwise all they would have found was a red smear and a shattered iphone.

between blocking traffic, having unusually loud one-sided conversations in public spaces, walking into people, sitting through green lights, slowing down order lines, derailing live conversations (the most unfortunate of the lot for me) and on and on, i think we need a new term to describe such indiscretions because the words we may have used in the past, like, say, "inconsiderate", no longer convey, fully, the numb egotism of this behavior.

SOCIETY (permalink) 08.29.2013
don't check consumer reports. check with the guy who fixes what you want to buy.
oh. and another interesting thing about the dishwasher bit. when the repairman, one of them at least, was at our house assessing our broken washer, after backing out of the washer, standing up and drying his hands on his rag, he explained that what we're experiencing is now rather common. he said
this has been picking up ever since the washington lobbyist got new rules in play about using smaller motors in dishwashers, motors to conserve energy. the part they missed, is they just changed the motors but nothing else and the new, smaller motors weren't powerful enough to drive the machines so the motors burn out quicker. and for reasons i can't explain replacing the motor most times cost more than buying a new machine. so first the old models would run longer and could be easily repaired which means after fifteen years you might send a motor to the dump. but now the machines break after five years, get replaced with a new machine, because that's cheaper, so now we're taking the whole appliance to the dump instead of just a motor. and three times as often.
f'ing brilliant.

PHOTO (permalink) 08.28.2013
a new GALLERY IMAGE was posted today.

FAMILY (permalink) 08.27.2013
fortunately, i used to be a professional dish-man
our dishwasher broke. yet again. i forget the full chronology of this appliance but all i can say with full conviction is that we seem unable to buy a dishwasher that can last multiple years without issue. and i would not say we were particularly hard on dishwashers as i essentially wash the dishes before putting them in. after our third or fourth dishwasher failure in ten years marty and i decided we would not replace or repair it and just do dishes by hand. granted eight years living on a single income partly fueled this choice as we weren't exactly basking in wealth but the state of things being what they were, both marty and i accepted, gladly enough, the situation. then after a year or more of this, marty came upon an unexpected $500 and getting a new dishwasher topped her list for the cash.

so we went to the mall, chose our appliance and were embarrassingly giddy the night before as we danced and sang songs and smiled broadly that this would be the last night we would be doing dishes by hand. the install guys came the next day as scheduled, pulled our addled washer out, complained about the crooked nature of the appliance's space which marty explained a non-crooked space did not exist in the home and pointed out that the last one went in there just fine. as they wrestled with the machine, one of the two men stood up and said ...

well ma'am, we're going to need to get a plumber in here because you need a shut-off valve for the washer and you don't have one.

what? why? we've never had one before.

new code ma'am. all dishwashers need a shut-off valve within two feet of the appliance.


in case something happens you can turn off the water.

why can't i just turn it off at the main?

because they want a valve here as well.

how much does that cost?

i reckon no more than a hundred or two.

(minute-long pause)

take it back.


take it back. i don't want it.

ma'am. why don't you take some time. we can put this in the garage. then, when your husband gets home, you can talk it over with him.

i don't need it in the garage. i don't need to talk to my husband. i need it taken back to where it came from. today.

so our celebration may have been slightly premature. after some thought we instead had a repairmen come and fix our existing washer for more money than the new washer (but less a new washer AND shut-off valve). it worked for several months but then stopped working in a brand new way. in one regard, it's near impressive the number of ways today's products can fail.

when our home is working as it's meant to, i do the dishes on the school/work nights and marty does them on the off days (sadly for marty this summer seemed to be one long off day). marty muscles through the undesired task with a conviction few folks can claim -- though, silverware seems to be her kryptonite. i find, often, the rote endeavor a calming end to the day as you start with a full-on wreck and wind up with a pristine and shiny end product. i don't often get that quick of a turnaround on most of my work so find getting to finish a job in less than an hour oddly satisfying. and, it doesn't hurt to know marty near swoons at a clean kitchen first thing in the morning. i may look nothing like brad pitt, but i betcha i clean a kitchen better than the man.

VIDEO (permalink) 08.23.2013
this one left me saying 'wow!'
stick with it throughout. i imagine you'll be glad you did.

KIDS (permalink) 08.22.2013
evidence that the intent carries the juice and words are just words
anthony got mad at marty the other day. because of this she shouldered being repeatedly called 'duck-face' from the back of the van as she drove the two of them home.

on the good side he used to call people dick-foot when he got mad. i reckon he'll pull it all together soon enough.

KIDS (permalink) 08.21.2013
our fixer
before the school year began marty went to school to work on her room. alex tagged along. once in the room alex asked if he could play on the smart board. marty said he could but it wasn't working. she explained it stopped working towards the end of last year and she had to have someone come look at it. alex asked what was wrong and marty gave the number one answer by non-technical minded folks to technical-minded folks saying "it was broke in the kinda way that when i tell it to come on, it doesn't come on".

alex began his silent rumination on the problem. in this studious state he is perfectly still. if you watch him really close you will see his eyes dart over the landscape in question. in this case his eyes travelled from the screen to the ceiling mounted projector to the computer on the desk. after a bit of time he went to the desk and started lifting and separating cords studying where they went. marty continued her organizing hardly noticing the quietest of her children. in time alex said, "you should try it now mom". patient and open as always marty fired the machine up and began going through the steps. as it came to the point where the routine failed she proactively announced that "and this is where the projector should come on but just stopped working one day" but in the midst of that sentence the wall behind her lab table lit up and displayed the screen from her desktop. marty lit up brighter than the wall, turned to her ten year old son who was wearing a barely perceptible grin and gave him a giant appreciative hug, the deep kind one pulls out just for special occassions.

FAMILY (permalink) 08.20.2013
i'd build one for marty and i but marty won't let me. she's says it's not adult-like.
i've been asked two questions about the gallery picture, re-shown below, that contained a sign reading "yes dad you may NOT sleep in my bed tonight".

question one. why is the language worded so?
if memory serves, in a moment of frustration, i had told the kids that 'no' was not a word i should ever hear from them when i or their mother asked them to do something. the sign is bella's coy way of letting me know she can work around the crusty missives of her vexed father.

question two. why would you be sleeping in your daughter's bed anyway?
from the start of children i said i would one day build each of my children a custom loft bed. last spring, after months of planning and weeks of building i completed my first troy-designed loft bed for one of my children. to say i love bella's bed ten times more than bella loves her bed would a flagrant understatement. couple this builder's admiration with the fact that our house still has a bit of musical beds going on in the night and you have a scenario where i occasionally score the coolest bed in my home.

KIDS (permalink) 08.19.2013
dad days 2013
the kids start back to school tomorrow and i just finished up with their dad days last week. between having three kids and a two week vacation finding a way to sneak three more days into the summer break is surprisingly challenging. but, it is a highlight for my kids and i each year and a ritual i'd protect to the end.

i feel like i've talked about these before but in case i haven't or you hadn't read about them at least, dad days are a day dedicated to a child after a successful school year to celebrate their academic accomplishments. at some point in the day we talk about school and i tell them this day is in honor of all their hard work and i'm proud and appreciative of their effort. this year anthony asked if that meant if he didn't do good or try hard in school that he wouldn't get a dad day. i thought for a moment before admitting that yes, if he didn't try to do his best he would not get a dad day. i saw him reflect on this for a bit before moving on. i think that might have been one of those quiet, important moments.

obviously i try to cater the days to the likes of each child . here are the itineraries of each for this year.

lunch (lions choice)
cabelas (archery glove)
go-karts park (w/ laser tag & water boats)
movie (pacific rim -- which was a bit much for him so we didn't stay )
more go-karts

book store
horseback riding
movie (world war z)
steak house dinner
ted drewes custard

ferry rides (into illinois)
water park
movie (planes)
dinner (mcdonalds)
ted drewes

as one of my kids once observed about dad lunches (this is where i pull a kid from school and take them to lunch once a month) that it was not fair because i got three dad lunches every month and they only get one. i told him that was true but when they were the parent they would get to enjoy all the lunches too. and this is surely triply true for dad days as for the effort of planning, i get to experience all three adventures and spend some seriously memorable and fun time with my little humans (although they are surely not staying little which is always a reminder to me of the import of such rituals).

MUSIC, VIDEO (permalink) 08.16.2013
he took me gourmet, we hit that olive garden, my little ita-lay.
while we were away, musical group karmin took a giant step forward. in case you're not familiar with their story karmin is a musical duo that met in college at an arts school. she studied singing and he studied the trombone. after school they started writing original music and posting it to youtube hoping to get noticed. they gained, as you might expect, exactly no traction with the galactic population so they, in a thoughtful and well executed move, chose to sing covers of songs. the thoughtful part of the move was the female of the duo had a penchant for singing rap songs in the shower so the dude suggested they cover one of those songs she typically only crooned in private. the execution was the other brilliant and more pivotal cocktail ingredient and by nailing the production brought their initial acclaim as the 84 million views at the time of this writing will attest. i'm assuming we can all agree, had they botched this execution/production they might at this very moment be cutting hair, waiting tables and dreaming about how close they were to doing what they loved.

this newfound attention allowed them to return to making original music, something they've done with respectable success. over the summer though they took it to a whole new level with a song that like it or hate it, you'd have to admit is right in the wheelhouse of the general population's taste and consumption needs.

and, if you put them up against the business advice from last week, i think they'd score well. granted we don't know if they'd buy a horse from an amish guy or a hotel from a pakistani, but i'd wager they know themselves well enough to know either of those pursuits would be a rookie move.

exhibit 1 - break-out moment from their small apartment.

exhibit 2 - and after several years of stayin' after it.

exhibit 3 - and lastly, a demonstration that acoustic versions of anything are awesome AND that they are still the two people back in that apartment and can still do a good bit of damage with not much more than a keyboard (this time using an acoustic guitar and wooden box).

HEALTH (permalink) 08.15.2013
entering a new chapter of parenthood
bella and i are biking the ms150 charity ride next month. although the event formally stages two 75 mile days, they began offering other distance options to increase interest and participation. currently we plan to ride two forty mile days, although if bella continues to improve at her current rate, we may do 75 miles the first day and 40 miles the second day (to get her over 100 miles for the weekend).

my interest in this distance ride, one i've done four or five times in the past, is biking-related. in typical fashion, i thought this was true for all riders. but as she has done so many times already in her twelve short years, bella has exposed how little i really know about the world around me for she is ravenously interested in this ride but not for the ride itself but instead for the opportunity to raise money for folks in need.

when the topic first arose i told her that such a ride was a reasonably serious affair and something that would require training. without pause, she said no problem. in the last few months she has gone from a girl who struggled through a reasonably tame seven mile park track to a girl who last weekend completed a twenty-five mile road ride without issue (and even bleeding the last ten miles after a reasonably nasty skin-abrading spill). fact is she has improved so much my concerns about the ride no longer focus on her ability to complete the miles as much as my ability to keep up with her as there have been a few times i've gotten distracted by something, like my bike computer, only to find she pulled away from me and it took a surprising amount of effort to catch back up to her.

and i really can't enumerate all the ways training with bella over the summer has been wickedly cool but it definitely marks an evolution in our relationship. it also indicates a shift in my parental role (marty too) as we are now be able to do stuff with the kids that isn't just geared towards the kid's level or likes but are things that marty and i enjoy doing just as much. a few of my more favorite moments during our training:

1. after passing a ripped woman in a sports bra, bella called over her shoulder, "boy, she sure earned that skimpy top." ever since then whenever we see a shirtless male or the naked mid-riffed female, a quick call by one or both of us, and sometimes simultaneously, of "earned it" or the less desirable "didn't earn it" gets called out.

2. while biking through a fancy rich neighborhood, bella said, again over her shoulder, "boy, someone sure loves their kids". when i asked what she meant, she pointed at the enormous corner lot and said, "look. they built their kid an entire, full-sized soccer field ? with goals". this comment made me smile wide and long for both its curious wit and that i now have a relationship that includes such comments with a child of mine.

so that's the plan. and if you are someone who supports the MS organization, bella and i (bella less than i -- cute kid and all) are still taking pledges for our ride. you can email me if you'd be interested/willing to pledge a few bucks.

PHOTO (permalink) 08.14.2013
a new GALLERY IMAGE was posted today.
JULY 2013

LIFE (permalink) 08.09.2013
life advice - part 5 : the intangibles
part four is over here

someone recently turned the tables on me and asked if i ever received any good business advice. as you might guess, i'm a better question asker than answer giver, concise answer giver at least.

the greatest lesson i ever learned did not come in a moment but was instead a slow drip of learning over many years, decades really, but an over-arching message was present. my two main mentors were my mother and a female boss i worked for for several years (and i've spoke of before). the message they delivered is that success isn't solely governed by a skillset but also by a host of tangential qualities surrounding a skill set: respect, presentation, honesty, vision, commitment, kindness, persistence, belief, to name a few of the sorts of qualities included. yes, of course, you have to have the base skills but the point is those skills alone aren't enough to deliver success or fulfillment. the import of all of these factors, blended and balanced in work and in life, were repeatedly demonstrated and re-enforced by my two mentors, and their noting them, in my behavior and professional endeavors during our time together. you might call them, en masse, the intangibles.

truth is i learned the intangibles before i learned my end skillset, as i would again be taken under the tutelage of new people who gave me the professional tools i still use today. but i feel it was the presence and honoring of 'the intangibles' that helped to distinguish me among my peers early on and continue today to effectively guide me into and through new waters.

and putting it that way, the intangibles, makes me think of the quarterback tom brady. athletically, tom brady is one of the lowest graded quarterbacks to ever go through the nfl combine (the testing ground where nfl hopefuls are evaluated). yet, he has gone on to be one of the highest achieving and best-regarded quarterbacks in the history of the nfl. were you to ask him and those who coach him, play alongside him, or compete against him, you will often hear words from 'the intangibles' toolbox mentioned.

so that would be my advice to a young professional. mind the details. all of them. and if you chose to ignore one, like say proper dress or good vision, make sure you are neglecting it mindfully and for meaningful, defensible reasons as there are plenty of unknowns ahead of you and it would be a shame to let an avoidable issue slip into your blind spot that might impact your opportunities or potential.

while that may seem long-winded i promise you, it could have have been immensely worse. just ask my daughter or wife. they would confirm you got off easy.

so how about you? did you get any good business or life advice along the way that made a difference for you? if so, i'd super-love to hear about it.

LIFE (permalink) 08.08.2013
life advice - part 4 : be excellent.
part three is over here

a few years ago i asked my students to attend a talk given by a special guest visiting our school. the man speaking was an alum of the university and now the ceo of a large investment firm. he stressed, emphatically, the importance of excellence and making sure that all of your work and all of your interactions were thoughtful and nothing short of outstanding. in the class i teach, excellence in your work served as a cornerstone, if not the entire point, of our lessons and we were deep enough into the semester that my students knew being excellent and thoughtful took time, like a lot of time (e.g. to make a good, passable twenty minute presentation can take four to five hours, but to make a great, memorable presentation you're looking at more like like fifteen to thirty hours, depending on how soon the inspiration comes). to this principle one of my students asked the man, "i understand the importance of being excellent but can you speak to how one is to find the time and energy to be excellent all of the time?"

to say i wasn't proud and impressed by my student's cogent question would be a full-on lie, especially next to the other ridiculous questions being wasted on this guy. unfortunately the man's answer kinda just stuck to the rallying cry of there is no rest for the successful and they are always working and they are always excellent which was a mainstay of his overall talk.

the next day in class we discussed the talk. someone commented that they felt his answer to the girl's question was lacking. i agreed but then defended him saying that it's hard to have a bulk of questions fired at you, moments after completing a talk, and get all of them perfect (which unfortunately soils his be excellent all of the time argument). i told them given his experience and how thoughtful his talk was if he were given a few minutes to properly ponder the question he might have said something like:
being excellent does take time and energy and there are not enough hours in the day or cycles in our minds to make everything we touch be excellent, but the true mark between the successful and those relegated to basements and back offices is successful people know when it is important to be excellent. because not all tasks and moments are equal and thus not all tasks and moments should or can receive equal attention.
fact is, i wouldn't have been surprised to see this man clap his knee while in his first class seat home as he thought of a better answer to the young, eager girl's question. he might have even mumbled audibly as he realized the missed oppurtunity to have been excellent.

LIFE (permalink) 08.07.2013
life advice - part 3 : nike agrees
part two is over here

in leading up to the interview with my uncle, i started practicing my questions on random folks i was hanging out with. before going to pennsylvania to meet my uncle, we spent a week at a beach with a few families. while out in the breakers one morning, i asked one of the dads, also a man who has had a markedly successful professional run thus far, if he ever received any advice that made a difference. he thought through a few rolling breakers and then lit up.
yes, yes i did. when i was young, before leaving home, my dad told me that if anyone asked me if there was something i could do, i should always say yes i could do that and then be a really quick learner. and that's what i've tried to do and most times, almost always, it has paid off.
to add support for his claim i learned he was a ski instructor in oregon while in grad school. i asked where he skied as i knew he grew up in the midwest. he said he hadn't skied. the obvious next question dealt with his 'ski instructor' credentials. the story goes, he was told a resort or school (i can't recall) was looking for a ski instructor. after talking to them (and telling them he could do it) he went to the mountain, got outfitted with some skis and started skiing working his way to the challenging terrain and skiing it until proficient. when it came time for class he proved ready and everyone came away happy. in the end i guess it's as my father-in-law said in regard to parenting "you just have to be smarter than your kids". perhaps the same holds true of teaching.

to add another important detail here, a mutual friend of ours, e-love, has also said of chris, the "say you can do it" guy, that he is the most extraordinary natural athlete he has ever seen. to support e-love's claim, after chris creamed us in tennis i asked when he, chris, learned to play and if he played in college. e-love interrupted the answer saying, "you don't want to know the answer to that question troy". of course i pressed on and e-love was right, i didn't want to know that the guy who just annihilated me in tennis and has the form of a former division 1 athlete, started playing a year ago and for the most part just pretends he's trying to hit a baseball.

LIFE (permalink) 08.06.2013
life advice - part 2 : cousin jerry definitely has the 'and then some' bit covered.
part one is over here

the day after chatting with my uncle jerry about business, i had lunch with a cousin of mine, also named jerry. cousin jerry is also a bit of a business savant (these two jerrys perhaps being the best businessmen in my entire family). i told him of my uncle's advice. he smiled and said, "yeah, that's good". i then turned the question to him and asked if he's had any advice he lived by. his reply.

i have two business rules i live by. first, i'd never buy a horse from an amish man and second, i'd never buy a hotel from a pakistani.

hah. i bet they're not teaching those lessons at wharton. can i ask why or how those rules came about?

sure. if an amish man is willing to part with a horse it means that horse is no good because that's the only way an amish man would let a horse go and if a pakistani can't make a hotel work, i'd wager there's no one around that can because you know that paki has tried everything under the sun to make a go of it, and if he can't make it, i'm pretty sure i couldn't either.

these answers are for-sure every bit as colorful as my cousin. further, i'd put cousin jerry up against any mba you could find to solve a business problem. in part because at the end of the work day and after dinner, i bet your mba wouldn't be sliding back in his car to go work a few repossessions before bedtime (see 'and then some' in part 1).

LIFE (permalink) 08.05.2013
life advice - part 1 : it's like my ma used to say ...
of the numerous things i did while on break, one of them (one of the cooler) sent me to the northeast to interview a relative. i won't tire you with the full evolution of what interested me in such an adventure as that would take me a bit of time to tease apart the dovetailed influences, not all of which are of interest. through the process though, i stumbled into an unexpected landscape of unexpected gems, gems dealing with people's personal thoughts and life experiences. namely it got me asking folks, even those not being interviewed, questions, many of which were ones i usually would not ask someone in simple conversation. one such question that proved suprising was asking if they had ever received a bit of professional advice that helped them succeed. once the answers started flowing, i found myself struck that i haven't been asking this more often. given how much i enjoyed hearing and subsequently thinking on these morsels, this week i'm going to share a few of the answers i received to the 'did you ever receive any especially good business advice' question, starting with my uncle jerry, the man who inspired this whole interviewing-escapade to begin with.

my uncle jerry is a fellow who began with very humble roots. a for-sure country boy, the first home he and his wife shared privately, was weeks earlier a pig pen that sat behind the farmhouse he shared with his family and prior to their occupancy, served sixty-six hogs my uncle had purchased and then sold as an investment. his memory is shady on how long it took to convert the pig pen into livable space but he puts it at somewhere between one and two weeks. in the decades that followed, my uncle went on to become one of the more respected businessmen of the county he called home.

my uncle is now 87 and he pondered on my question for a fair bit before answering. then, slowly, he recalled a fellow he worked with once. he told of a moment at the end of the day where an older gentlemen wagged a finger at a twenty-something jerry and said in what sounded like a near-accusatory tone, "always put in an honest day's work son ... and then some." jerry confessed to remembering that sentence throughout his working life and he recalls many a day where he pushed his chair back to head home when the tail line of that proclamation rolled through his head. he'd then ask himself if he had yet done his "and then some". this contemplation often prompted him to slide back under his desk and put in another fifteen minutes or two hours depending on the task he chose to bite into. with this time he might get organized for the next morning's work or finish a bit of paperwork that had been eluding completion. in looking back on it he admits that it could very well be that "and then some" philosophy that proved the difference between his work product and that of his peers and his competition.

this is one of those magical life tenets i'm choosing to place in the "there's no way it could hurt" drawer right next to eating fruit and smiling more often.

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