Deterrence

This is the concept that an action can be prevented by the doubt of consequences. Not a new idea, nuclear deterrence has been the de facto one for half a century – it’s how North Korea manages to have any semblance of power despite no economic/social structure.

It’s been typically viewed at the global level, between countries. In fact, it applies to our day to day lives. Prison is a pretty effective deterrent, not too many people want to end up there. There’s likely a laundry list of things you don’t do because of the potential consequences, and for the most part, the actions before the consequences are likely amoral or unethical anyhow.

But we’re in a place now where the consequences of an action are not proportionate to the action itself. You steal $10m and get fined $1m. You’re ahead by 9. Or better yet, get fined and increase your bottom line. You want to express your right to vote, but your employer warns you’ll be fired if you miss work. You want to get a health test but it will cost you 2 days pay or more.

It’s really an interesting conundrum. People who want to do the “right thing” are actually disadvantaged to do so. Either they put their own health or their livelihoods at risk. If the only way you’re able to put bread on the table requires you to look the other way from time to time, that is not a choice – it’s an abuse of power. How many people can barely get out of bed with the flu, but still go into work because they aren’t allowed sick leave? Or send their kids to school ‘cause they can’t take time to care for them?

I’m conscious that I live in one of the most liberal countries in the world, where individuals have rights that are only dreamed of. It’s folly to say that we’re good enough and we won’t improve until others catch up. There are plenty of pockets where people barely get by, and there are no options to get out. A homeless person doesn’t just magically stop being homeless – nor was it magic that made them so. Nearly all of the “startup millionaires” had their parents give them money, or connections through angel investors. There’s a good reason they are mostly white males.

Hats off to those who push back. To those who draw that line and say it’s enough. That come up with innovative idea to bypass the systematic deterrence. That find a way to value everyone. That take the time to listen to other points of view, that grow as a community, that are willing to accept they are wrong and grow from it.

We’re all people at the end of the day. We all deserved to be treated as such.

Overhyping Importance

I had a long rant about the insanity of denying global warming. But it doesn’t really matter because in my mind, anyone who actually does deny it is not capable of rational thought. There’s more than enough evidence and experts. And if for some reason they are wrong, then we end up with a cleaner/healthier planet.

I had another rant about social media and it’s poisonous effects on the mental state. Your information is being collected, packaged, and sold to as many buyers as possible. You get nothing out of it but cat memes, and crazy uncles with news stories from some weirdo’s basement. Frankly, there’s not much to say about this other than delete Facebook (and others) and go for a walk.

Others on the state of global politics. Some are killing dissenters, others are rather evidently committing genocide. Somehow we’re cool with that, cause we need out dollar store merchandise and our oil. Or on the youth’s view of cancelling everything in an act of rebellion.

I like to think there’s some good news here. We’re conscious there are problems, and the younger population is educated to a degree that makes rational thought possible. There’s major progress in health care, in renewable energy, and in nutrition. It sucks for my generation, as I’ll be worse off than my parents. But I take some solace knowing that it’s surely going to be better for my kids. No rants needed.

Small Goals

Like getting out of bed.

I know I’m in a funk. That makes the funk even funkier. I have a pretty good idea why I’m in a funk. Kids and wife are back in school and it took all of a day for issues to pop up. Learning curve, and we need to adjust – fine. Work is in full transform mode, trying to take advantage of the work from home model to finally implement some much needed changes. Then there are some friends who are going through health issues – seems I can’t go 2 weeks before some sort of major health event going on. Normally I can box these items up and manage them. Those boxes are overfull, and my normal coping mechanisms are lacking.

Writing helps. Talking too. The ideas in my head need to come out, and both are effective ways to do so. Another technique I’ve tried with some success is setting small goals. Things that, on a normal day, are benign and simple. They are simple things, and the act of doing them brings some amount of pleasure.

Getting in and out of bed by a given time is a simple thing. The morning wash. Ensuring I take the time to eat a healthy breakfast. Pausing from desk work and stretching. Taking a few minutes to clean up the kitchen counters. Prepping coffee for tomorrow. Normally I wouldn’t even think of them, I’d just do it. Now it’s conscious.

To move into gaming for a minute, Stardew Valley is pretty much based on small goals. Waking up and watering my garden. Petting my animals. Repairing a fence or clearing the field of weeds. Making mayonnaise or truffle oil. Collecting roe and pickling it. It sounds ridiculous, but the act of plucking a field of blueberries just feels fun.

The larger goals are there. I’ve fully upgraded the farm house, but I’ve yet to furnish it with all the casks/kegs I want to build a winery. I’m 1 harvest away from finishing up the community center packages. I’m at 5 hearts (of 10) with a few villagers, so lots more talking and presents to go. I’ve got all the rarecrows (meaning access to the casino too!). I have chests and chests of stuff that may have some use, but I’ve yet to figure it out. I’ve got about 200k in the bank. I know I need to reach floor 100 in the Skull Cavern, so I’ll need a ton of bombs and a few healing pots to get there. None of these items can be done in a single day, week, or even a month of game-time. It will take multiple play sessions to get there, and each one still feels good to get through.

Stardew Valley (like Minecraft and similar) is not a game about the end, or major cinematics, it’s entirely about the journey. It’s chocked full of tiny little things to do, mundane even. But they are all linked together in some way. It’s like a dance, where you know the basic steps, but it takes music and a partner to really see it shine. You don’t wait for the music to end, you enjoy it while it plays.

It’s sometimes hard to explain why gaming is such a therapeutic thing for me. Most people only think of FPS/gore when they think of games. But in truth, I don’t play games to see the end credits. I play games to experience small joys. The best games have those joys intertwine into an experience that just doesn’t let go. And even when you do see those end credits, you feel like you just took the most amazing of journeys. It’s a damn good feeling.

First Day of School

My gaming laptop is in for repairs (4 unresponsive keys) so nothing on that front this week. I will state that finding replacement parts for any laptop is a hell of an adventure – most ship out of China. Anyhoot, should be fixed in the next couple days. I still have my tablet which currently hosts Stardew Valley. Still very zen.

In my part of the world, today is the first day of school for my girls. My wife is also a teacher, but in high school which starts next week. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a certain amount of anxiety. I know teachers are going to do their best, with the tools they have at hand. I also know they are not first responders, they are caretakers. Nurses don’t apply discipline. Firefighters don’t help kids that fall and get a scraped knee.

I also know that my level of understanding on medical issues is not the same as others. In the limited exposure I’ve set myself for, I’ve not yet experienced people who don’t want to wear a mask, or who are challenged with keeping a social distance. I’ve heard of it though friends, that’s for sure. And it’s going to be an interesting event if a parent is given the choice between a kid with sniffles going to school vs. an un-paid day of work.

Let alone a child’s ability to respect distancing. No monkey bars. No basketball. No street hockey. I’ve seen the classrooms, it’s not possible for them to keep this distant when there’s 25 in a room that fits 15.

But my kids are happy to see their friends again. They are looking forward to meeting their new teachers. They want to learn. They were all smiles today when I dropped them off at school. Who am I to break that? So I do my best to not bring up my worries around them, just some conversations with the wife instead. And when they come home tonight, we’ll focus on all the good/cool stuff they did today. Need to make the best out of the situation and find some positive in uncertain times.

Dumpster Fire

I really try to keep away from politics, it rarely ends well.  Sweet igloo, there’s a dumpster fire going on with our neighbours down south.

185,000 people are dead, which is the equivalent of having a 9/11 event every 3 days.  9/11 being the most defining US moment in the past 50 years, where everyone came together.   Not saying the counterpunch was relevant, or on target, but the country at least was unified.  And the whole world is impacted, the US decides to go it alone.

There have been escalating protests, with everything being put under a lens.  Things people did 20+ years ago are being measured against today’s standards.  And no one is actually doing anything about it, just posting blogs/tweets.  People are still being shot for no reason other than the colour of their skin, and there’s no consequences.

This seems more like Lord of the Flies, where the adults have simply left the room.  It’s us vs them, which is exactly how fascist states run.  But it’s cool, cause the stock market went up a couple points.

It’s not like we don’t have challenges here in Canada, we most certainly do.  Big ones.  But they are such small potatoes to the insanity south of the border.  It would be sad if it wasn’t so god darn scary.  To witness the fall of a modern empire in such a small time frame is beyond comprehension.

I am reminded of two pertinent quotes.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

Tomorrow I want to post something good.  I need to.

The 5 Ds

No, not Dodgeball. Time management. And since I am often starved for time, I need to do this all too often. This applies when you’re presented with a choice of competing events for time.

I say 5, when the larger view is that there are only 4. I’ll explain the 4 first.

DO

The act of doing the task. Most people time this at the 2 minute mark, if you can get it done in that time, then do it. Being a good writer helps tremendously on this, as you can do more in 2 minutes. My personal bar is closer to 5 minutes, given the types of decisions I need to make and associated actions.

DEFER

Things that take longer to do but you don’t have time to do them. Work-related, this is a rather big pile. I have a fully booked schedule to track piles of activities, and a tracking sheet for outstanding items. Woooo is this a big pile.

DELETE

Most people struggle with this one. We are inundated with requests and many of them can be ignored. If I’m not in the TO field, I don’t need to do the work and I move on. I get dozens of requests from vendors to meet them, I ignore most of those too. I tend to hoard information though, so while I may ignore it, I don’t necessarily delete it.

DELEGATE

This doesn’t only apply to management roles. Let’s say I have repairs to do, I can do most of them myself but I know that the finishing work takes a PILE of time and I’d look at my mistakes for years. So I’ll end up paying someone to do that work for me. In group games, there’s a ton of delegation. Raid leaders know this all too well.

The Fifth

This is where people get stuck, and it’s the ability to decide. Too often people get paralyzed with a decision to make and end up not making one at all. There’s the flip side where people make decisions too hastily and come to regret the outcomes. The act itself is a skill, rather than an outcome, and everyone needs their own practice and set of rules. What I may delegate, another may do.

Back from vacation, I have ~750 emails to get through, which isn’t too bad at all compared to a normal work week. A lot of them are more of the FYI type, but there are a couple in there where I was tasked with work in the future. In a lot of cases, I will delete those actions because the folks can’t understand how an Out of Office / delegate system works. They will ask for a status update and I will just say “did you send it to my clearly indicated delegate?”. A small but important amount will be generic tasks, like performance target updates that are for a larger group, including me.

Over time I’ve become better at time management. Maybe a tad too good at times, and managing expectations becomes complicated. What I can do in 2 hours may take a team member a week to follow through. I know a guy who can put baseboards on an entire floor faster than a team of 5 amateurs can do it. The larger challenge them becomes in delegating, and ensuring the people who do need to do the work are trained/coached along so they get better over time. It takes time, but the payoff is immense. Less work for me, more experience for them, and we get to build a relationship from it.

And that’s my work goal for the rest of this calendar. In the personal space… that’s a really open question. More of a team game there.

The High Road

The problem with the high road is that so few people take it.

Over the years I’ve learned to split off things that matter, and things that don’t.  That also applies to people.  I know what’s important to me, what makes those around me happy, and that’s really enough to get me through the day.  I trust the people close to me, enough to have honest conversations on pretty much any topic.  I’m more than willing to help people out… last weekend the plans changed from playing golf to building a shed, and I didn’t really see an issue with that.

I noted earlier that I have been fortunate to own and have access to other cottages.  Access to those other cottages means that I can let people use mine.  This year, a lot of people are under cabin fever, so that’s a boon to them.

Prior context – we took a weekend to lift the cottage and install some weeping tile (~250′).  The doors close better.  Water weeps better.  Some parts of the cottage necessarily have new gaps that we’re going to discover.

The first group had a blast.  They went through a cord and a half of wood in something like 3 days (if you burn wood, you know how crazy that is).  No issues, came back, and things were super clean and orderly.

Second group also had a great time.  We got a few messages from them about things they did – like finding a wasp’s nest, or a light fixture not working.  They even attempted to change the light.  They are also super clean and make sure things are as they left.

Fifth group is great.  They just needed some time away from the city and some calm.  No challenges.

Fourth group encountered some challenges.  The BBQ was missing some gas, and even then wasn’t rolling 100%.  There was a communication challenge as well, related to the third group.  Still, a rather good experience

The third.  While there, the messages were great, no issues.  I’m not sure what happened between group 3 and 4, but that didn’t go as smoothly as it could have.  Not bad, just not as smooth as all the others.  We did get a follow-up from group 3 afterwards.  That was a weird one.  Some out of left field comments on the maintenance of the cottage.  A point that there was a leak inside the cottage during the rain.  Things that make you go “hmmm”.  Especially considering the weekend of gold/shed building would have moved to repairing this issue ASAP.

The highroad in this is what happens after my stomach turns to knots and I take a dozen deep breaths.  I would have absolutely taken a different approach than group 3, and some of the comments are without any weight.  It’s a cottage.  I really don’t care what one group thinks of cosmetics, when I have no issues with 4 others.  The high road here is to thank them for the information, let others know there may be some issues to look out for, and then head up on the weekend to do the necessary investigation / repairs.   The roof was already planned to be redone in the fall, when it wasn’t a heat wave.  Siding was another project to do, and then there’s some landscaping to close out the fall and finalize in early spring.

I guess I’m getting more mature.  When I was younger I’d have no issues letting my opinions be shared.  But there’s no real end point here than two sides that don’t agree on something banal. Or maybe I’m just tired of the energy required to have those arguments.  On to the next project.

Back in the Saddle

I am extremely fortunate to both own, and have access to other cottages.  I’d guess I’ve only slept in my own bed 5 times in the last 6 weeks.  While I’m thankful to be back in my own bed, I can say I did enjoy the experience all the same.  The only downside was that I didn’t get any time off in that span.  Some things at work popped up, and I had to cancel/defer the planned time off .  It sucks massively when you have to work while the kids and friends are spending days in the sun/water having a blast.  The evenings were good though – more than good given the work stress.  I’m happy I do have a job, but the work/life stuff isn’t all that pleasant at the moment.

There’s something to be said about being so busy you can’t really think straight.  A firefighter putting out a blaze isn’t worry about their credit card balance, right?  Well, eventually things stop being on fire and bills start showing up.  My team’s response to COVID has had some significant costs, but the real financial kicker is the use of all the services.  We blew through a year’s worth of budget in 2-3 months, so I need to find more money, and soon.  Compounded by annual budget cycles, all I’m seeing now is requests for funding.  Making that even worse is that the key people to make sense of those files are as burnt out as I am (or worse) and we all need a good break.  We need some light to shine before the regular September rush starts us all back again.

That rough aside, I do have to say I’ve more than enjoyed the time I have had with my family these past few months.  Seeing both my kids grow before my eyes is something I could never buy.  Camping out under the stars, tubing like madwomen, seeing them interact and help other kids to learn new skills.. all of it amazing to see.  And my wife’s ability to manage the household chaos while I’m neck deep in work.  Holy crud she can make things happen.  “We need to work on the cottage foundation”.  2 days later, the equipment is rented, the material bought, and time blocked to do the work. 4 days after that, ALL the work is done.   Never would have happened with anyone else, just a machine.

This week is going to be a rest week.  Finally mow the lawn.  Get some sleep.  Drink (a bit) less beer.  Then likely get back at it the weeks that follow until the chaos of the school year begins.

Inference

Since the last post was on communication, this post continues that trend as it’s a part that  frankly appears to be an art more than a skill.

Inference is often just reading between the lines.  For a person receiving a message, they need to understand both the speaker’s intent and be attentive to the message.  For a person giving a message, they need to manage the expectations of the audience.

I still recall an old example from uni, based on a sentence structure.  The italics represent the focus on a given word, then the inference from the statement.  First the base statement.

  • You should not steal these books.

Simple enough.  Don’t steal those books. Let’s focus on each word now.

  • You should not steal theses books.

Infer that you shouldn’t do this, but someone else can.

  • You should not steal these books.

Infers this is a suggestion only. If it was must not, then you can’t at all.  But if you have a good reason, then do so.

  • You should not steal these books.

Don’t steal them, but you can burn them, take them, draw in them, etc…

  • You should not steal these books.

Those other ones are OK.

Inflection & Tone

As much as it’s what’s said, it’s how it’s said that really matters.  The verbal aspect applies  a significant amount of context and impact to a given message.  The non-verbal items also add a lot, as you can tell from facial expression and hand gestures where the key points are of a given message.  I’ve often said there’s more in a raised eyebrow than there is in a book.

Monotone orators, or those with nasal inflections make for tough speakers.  There’s only so much Ben Stein I can take in a day.

Brevity vs. Discourse

The length of a message also has a lot of inference.  Very short messages are often seen as poignant and commanding.  They are important.  Very long messages that meander (like Grampa Simpson) lose the audience’s attention and key bits are just ignored.  The quality of the speaker has a huge impact on the value of that time.  Great storytellers could go for hours and I’d be at edge of seat.  Poor speakers I’ve had enough after 5 minutes.  The “umm, ok, ahh,like” speakers drive me right up the wall.  I try to give a lot of feedback on this part of oration to my team members… it makes a world of difference.

Written Form

I would hope that in all our mind’s eye we have a picture of a good speaker and a poor one.  From a writing perspective, we all have our own preferences.  The above items still apply, where the method of the message has a larger impact than the subject.  Simple things like italics, semi-colons… heck, even just the number of words in a given sentence do more for me than the material.  It’s sort of like food.  It could taste amazing, but if it doesn’t look good, then I won’t enjoy it.

Infer

Back to the actual subject now.  There are multiple levers to get a message across, and the giver intends and how the receiver captures.  Even if everyone posted on the same topic, every blogger would have their own interpretation and message.  Some prefer to add a lot of screenshots to get a point across, others prefer walls of text.  Some clearly do a QA parse, others it’s first draft every time.  When a blogger differs from their “normal” style, it’s quite interesting to read through.  Yet the key here is that most bloggers I read are not trying to sway any particular opinion, they don’t have an agenda, they are just sharing cause they want to.  Big difference from traditional print, or even online news (Buzzfeed’s eternal search for clicks).

I could go into the subtleties of writing, where there are hidden messages in the actual message.  But that’s borderline spin, and I think we all have enough of that on a daily basis.  For this post, it’s just about being conscious of a writer’s style, and how that style itself frames a given message.

 

Communication Skills

The gamer stereotype of basement dwellers was fairly accurate in the early 90s/00s.  The explosion of acceptable geek, online communities, and now streaming has flipped that around.  Likely the most communicative people you find are going to be gamers.  Sort of begs the question if the issue was the people, or the medium.  I’d like to think it’s both.

Gamers traditionally want to share, rather than hear the sound of their own voice.  LAN parties, D&D sessions and whatnot.  Traditional media is one way, lacking any true sense of feedback or dialogue.  Bring in the interwebs and now there are platforms to share, and kablooey, here we are.  Social media was birthed from that mindset.  (Another topic as to what it’s warped into.)

I work in an IT field.  Communication skills are, for the most part, lacking.  Oh, they are all over social media, but they’ve modified their methods to fit the tool.  If it isn’t done in 140 characters, the interest is lost. The concept of long form, or complex dialogue is not something new hires have experience.  And because they generally value their online identity more than the message, they take a fair a lot of insult at any pushback.  It’s hard to block your boss after all.

Just the general concept of thinking before speaking seems to be a lost art.  I can see it in their eyes, all of a sudden they realize what’s come out and silence comes along, or some stuttering.  I don’t mind thinking out loud, that’s a good way to build up an idea with other people. But there are parts of a person’s life that I really don’t need to know about.

I’m clearly getting old here.  I’m in the middle of the workforce in terms of age, but there are many more generations of communications younger than me than older.  Google is older than some of my employees.  And I have students that are as old as Facebook.  Means that when I’m having a large group session, I need to apply a half dozen communication techniques to make sure everyone gets it.

There’s some irony to this topic appearing on a blog, as the audience is likely going to be people who already present long form ideas.   It’s one of the many reason I still blog, keeping that part of the brain active without it being loaded with work-related items.  It’s just an interesting fact that I’ve come to realize… as much as I spent effort building ideas, I spend quite a bit of effort communicating them.  Cause even the best idea in the world won’t go anywhere if people aren’t hearing about it.