Managing Change

This is a haughty topic, one that I’ve been noodling on for as long as I can remember. The old adage that the only things certain in life are death and taxes misses a key 3rd item – change. Change is inevitable. There is nothing you can do to stop it, at best you can redirect it or have some impact on its effects.

Change occurs for a multitude of reasons, though primarily due to a a powerful agent. In changes we cannot control, these agents are fundamental – like water eroding a mountainside. In change we can control, the agents are often so complex that the we can only see them from our vantage point. If you’ve never been stopped by a cop because of the colour of your skin, it’s impossible for you to understand, let alone empathize. Sometimes change comes from a need, like smoke detectors being mandatory in your home. You could make a career out of analyzing the root cause of a given change – that’s pretty much what ancient history is all about.

You can’t stop change. Change is like a flow of water, if it hits a block somewhere, it will search for a new one elsewhere. You’re unlikely to have any success impacting the agent of change. There’s nothing you or I, as individuals, could have done to stopped the crash of ‘08 which impacted the global markets and nearly every person on the planet in some form. The people responsible for detecting that change agent were complicit in creating it. Our history (and current state) is full of examples of civil wars where the change agent was repressed and eventually overcame.

You can redirect change. A slight nudge early can dramatically alter the long term impacts. Like if you know your company is looking at job cuts, you can choose to ride it out and wait for the package, or you can start looking NOW and get ahead of the hundreds of others who will be in the same boat as you. If you see that your kid is struggling with reading, then taking time when they are young will dramatically alter their learning experience for the rest of their lives. If you are cautious about a change, then you can potentially defer it until that comfort is found – like waiting for extra research on a new drug.

But let’s say for a minute you don’t accept the change, you don’t want to be part of it. Plenty of people who have done that. Maybe you don’t want to accept that your kid may be a pothead. Or that there is no future in coal mining. Or that maybe, based on the colour of your skin, there are doors that open and close. We often see folks say “I didn’t see it coming”, which is certainly possible – 50 years ago. In 2020, it’s the opposite. The ease of which social media allows for outright hatred and lies to spread is unprecedented. Smart and rational people have all but given up their ability to think, in exchange for group ownership. This “group hive” mentality is an amazing defence mechanism to change – as a group you can have a larger impact on the redirection of change, thereby limiting its impacts on you. This is how the “church” (all of them) operates, through doctrine to manage change. Waiting to accept that gays exist? Hope the Pope says its ok, otherwise it’s not.

There’s a concept of change fatigue, where so much changes so fast that people lose their sense of stability and self. It feels like you’re in the middle of the ocean, struggling to stay afloat, swimming for shore – only for another wave to push you farther out. I’ve certainly been there, more than once. It’s exhausting, depressing, an isolating. You’ll grab on to the first thing you see in the hope that it can help. There are people who know this, people who prey on the weak, exploiting their critical needs. You seem them every day on television, preaching the us vs them mentality. How your neighbour is secretly stealing your wifi, or the lady on the bus is planning to take your job.

So what do we do about it? Is it just a lost cause? No, we need to show empathy and compassion. We need to show acceptance of the struggles of managing change. And we need consequences for those that abuse the power of seeing change through, those that prey on the weak. We need to reward those who help others, and understand that it’s a strength to change overtime, not a weakness. Changing your idea based on new, reputable information, is exactly how it’s supposed to work. It’s why we don’t have lead paint or gas in our cars.

If we don’t, and we continue to reward those that sow division and resistance to change, there is only one outcome. It’s up to us all to figure out if that’s what we really want.

Black November

Black Friday exists as a point in the calendar where businesses finally started to get “in the black” (e.g. profitable) within a calendar year. Gives you an idea of how tight profit margins used to be – that it takes 11 months of 12. Clearly, this isn’t a date on the calendar, each business is different. Custom eventually slapped this on the the US Thanksgiving Friday.

That unity brought competition between various businesses and the concept of a super-sale. There are enough WalMart videos to show how well that’s gone. Over the years it started spreading to other countries (the sale, not the dumb), yet at the same time it was competing with the online sale market.

A few years ago we started seeing Cyber Monday, where online sites had major sales after Black Friday. This had 2 purposes, ensure the on-site stock was cleared, and collect more money cause who doesn’t like a sale? The smell of money drives nearly everything, so businesses started to think about how they could get more of it, with minimal effort. Never underestimate the power of greed!

See the advent of Black Friday weekend. Then Black Friday week. And now we’re at Black Friday sales all through November. Think about that for a second, a month-long sale on a pile of stuff. We’re broaching Steam Sale timeframes now. Not in the space of 10% off, but the big sticker “50% off” or “$300” off. No business can operate on those margins… so they don’t.

In Canada we have some simple laws when it comes to displaying prices, in that the ring up at the cash has to match the sticker. This is the sort of grocery store fight you see on soup prices – but it actually applies to larger things too. In Ontario at least, the price you see advertised on a new car is the price you pay (+ tax). There are no hidden “delivery fees” or any garbage. Great! Yet, they are build for the brick and mortar model.

What we’re seeing now (more pervasively) is the perception of a sale. There are quite a few businesses that operate on this model (Burlington Coat Factory is one, Winners another). You look at the item and it says Regular $89, Sale $19. Great deal! But the normal price is actually $19 everywhere. Sure, you may find the odd item, but it’s not like that business can operate at 20% the margins of another.

This model applies to online stores too. Amazon is target #1 for this, where it shows a sale, but the actual price is higher than their normal price. What I mean by this is that online retailers will sell say a TV for $900 for the month of October. Then they will add that item to Black Friday sales for the month, but raise the price to $950 and then say that they are saving $500. It’s clearly a lie, you can compare around and see everyone is selling the TV for $900 – but the concept of saving $500! Holy cow! (This is actually illegal in the UK, you need to prove the item was $500 more for at least a month. So they raise the price 1 month before the sale starts.)

While I think this is absolutely despicable behaviour, I also think that this is going to have the same long term effect of window shopping in brick and mortar. Where people today browse furniture in a store then buy online to save money, technology is already starting to catch onto these models. Sites like CamelCamelCamel are popping up and giving you the ability to see prices over time, and set alerts for real sales. Here’s a price history for a “great deal” on an Acer Nitro laptop. Save $200! Or you know, look at the history and see that it sells for this price every 2 weeks, then $200 more the other 2 weeks. Is it a sale when it’s this price half the time?

Technology is so cheap nowadays, that it’s just a matter of time before this gets wider scale use. People are going to window shop on Amazon, visit a price history site, and then make their decisions that way. This won’t stop the mad WalMart rushes though – pretty obvious there’s no saving the people who enjoy that. I’d be quite curious to see how that all works out this year, ya know, what with a pandemic and all.

Political Fallacy

There’s an interesting intersect between math and philosophy, where two opposite statements can in fact turn out to prove another point. A fallacy (there are more terms for it) is a fault in reasoning. It’s deceptive in nature, meant to not address the item at hand. It’s a GREAT political tool.

Quick example. Violent video games make people commit crimes. There are holes in this like crazy. Just violent games? Crimes didn’t exist before video games? It somehow makes people commit the crimes, by giving them the weapons? It’s pretty easy to drive a truck through that thinking, but as a soundbite, you betcha that mothers will clutch their pearls.

In modern history (post WW2), the US has aggressively pushed democracy around the world. They’ve gone to war for it numerous times. There’s a level of pride in “liberating” countries so that their people can dictate their future, rather than an unelected cabal. In principle, people can agree to this.

I won’t go into the existing US political system. It’s clearly broken, and to a degree so complex that there’s frankly little that can be done about it without removing everyone in office and preventing them from returning. Best of luck and all that.

What I will get into is the amazing spin on the invalidity of the election results. So here we go:

  • The current president told his supporters not to vote by mail, the competition did the opposite.
    • Of note, in 2016 there were 33m mail in votes. Including the current president. 2020 saw 64m mail in votes.
  • Mail-in votes (and other distance voting options), for historical reasons, are counted after in-person votes in 21 (!!) states.
  • The competition received in the range of a 9:1 ratio of the votes.
  • Regardless of the outcomes, it was clear that due to the above there would be a major uptick when those additional (and substantial) votes were counted.
  • Due to the way the US electoral system works, PA was enough to tip the final scales.
  • The US media has called the election since the 40s, they did so again, for the competitor.
  • The current president is not willing to accept the results (which is acceptable in the context of recounts), yet asking that both vote counting stop in places he’s losing, and continue in places he’s winning.

Cool, cool, cool, cool. ‘cept….

You can’t really be advocating for democracy elsewhere when you are saying that your system is rigged. I mean, they’re not in Russia where the election results are posted before voting begins. If you’re at the point where you don’t trust multiple state’s results over millions of votes, where you believe that people who voted by mail are somehow all crooked if they didn’t vote the way you wanted, then there are some foundational items wrong in the logical thinking.

Let’s say they are right, the system is broken and full of fraud – then the whole thing has to start over again and it looks like a coup from one side. Let’s say they are wrong, and this is the actual results – they will look like they tried to stage a coup from the other side. And it just amplifies the longer this goes on.

This is a view from Canada, where our election system is certainly not perfect. We have tremendous interest in the well-being of our southern cousins. It’s absolutely fascinating to see the insanity, to the point where I wonder if there’s really any point. More worried that it spreads.

Life Without Sports

I’ve been playing hockey since I was 5. I took a few years off during university/college, but went back into it about 15 years ago. I was playing 2-3 times a week and it was great exercise and stress relief. The beer after the game helped even more with the socializing, and you know, seeing people. 12 months a year, a few weeks off for holidays and what not. Same guys for most of it too, so I have a larger attachement to that, than I do work.

The past few years, my kids have played sports too. I was assistant coach 2 years ago, and head coach last year. Every weekend was activities, and more during the week. Busy no doubt, but the kids enjoyed it, got to meet new people, and got exercise. Helped that nearly all the other parents were good folks too. More than helped actually, I’ve seen the other side of that.

We also watched hockey games at night. Either just a couple of us, or with other folks. It was something I enjoyed doing with my grandfather too. I’ve been in a hockey pool for what feels like 20 years too.

We’re the tail end of October, the usually chaos of a first tournament, the start of the NHL, and the transition to indoor activities since Canada gets some crappy weather. Now there’s none of that. Like a giant hole of 20+ hours a week just plopped down, and options to fill it are quite limited.

My city is in a near lockdown due to cases stemming from September. Trend is stable now, but still not below the rate to consider it reasonable. That means that the kids can’t really go out to public spots. Museums were often a good spot for a few hours, but that ain’t an option. Bowling is out. Restaurants are closed (and can’t watch a game). Visiting folks requires the 2m rule, if at all. It’s a high dose of cabin fever!

Working from home has perks, certainly the lack of travel is a big one. But living in your office isn’t exactly good for the mental space. There’s less time to “switch gears” from work to home life. There are days where they wife/kids come home and I still have an hour+ to go. Feels like there’s no break.

Games are helping. It would be cool to share more of them with the kids as I did before. I’m thinking of getting another quick and dirty laptop so that both the kids have one, and I have mine. They are having fun with their games with their friends, the hollers between them are something else. Reminds me of playing Mario Kart with my siblings.

I used to be people’d out with work and sports. Now I’m realizing I have a gap in that area and need to do more about it. I’m sure I’ll come up with something, ideally it will be something that can be shared with the family. I certainly have enough of a backlog of games to help, just not that many that are multiplayer. Plus, paying $70×3 for the gang to play isn’t at the top of my list…

Quality Time

I have a saying in that there’s no such thing as quality time, there’s just time. Coffee mug no less. Often gets quizzical faces. The concept is that if you only think about quality time, you’re missing out on all the rest. And the rest is often the best part.

The best conversations I have with my wife aren’t set up at a pre-ordained time, they are off the cuff. Getting my kids to open up isn’t based on perfect conditions, it’s just all of a sudden the verbal diarrhea comes out and you need to stop what you’re doing.

That said, it’s not about sitting on the couch and expecting these moments to just happen. Serendipity happens when you’re doing something else after all. With a whole bunch of time on my plate with work on hold for the past few weeks, I opted to pick up some new activities. I wrote earlier about Ghost of Tsushima (get it!), but there’s a lot of hours in a day. (Side note, one of the symptoms I have is severe exhaustion.)

In March, my wife picked up a pile of paint by numbers to tide the ways. We didn’t really pick it up then, but I certainly did in September. I have some good memories of it as a child, but it’s certainly more complex today, what with better paint, brushes, and technical knowledge. We have a few different brands, and I have to say that Reeves is by far the best one. Paint is solid, the brushes are quality, and the art itself is nice. I’ll have a shot up once I’m done my panda. I’d say I have about 20 hours or so in it now. It’s good to just sit, have a coffee, and have a chat with people around the table.

Spurred by a friend who dropped off a care package, we finally purchased an ice cream attachment to our KitchenAid stand mixer. I really love baking, and ice cream making is pretty close to it. It took a few tries, but I found a recipe that provides a consistent base to build from. Gave a shot at some chocolate peppermint, and some vanilla butterscotch batches, and I am more than impressed. The challenge is in making the stuff last. It puts a smile on the face of everyone who eats it, so it’s certainly worth the time.

Exercise is also a key fact of life for me. With the inability to play/coach hockey, I still need to move. This summer was incredibly hectic with cottage repairs and way too much office work. I started up again (and dropped alcohol for September) to kick start the metabolism. I have a good program that I follow, swap a few things here and there. Less than an hour and I’m done the set. Doing this while my kids are around has them doing some too. Wife has gotten back on it as well. Nothing to do with getting big, but all to do about feeling good. Being able to shoot some hoops with the kids, pick them up, dance a bit. I love games, but there’s a time and place for them too.

So the month of September was all about taking time to do things I enjoy, and sharing that with others. And conversely, taking time to do things others enjoy. For all the negatives that September has brought, it’s also brought a whole lot of good. Thankful for that.

A Great Man Has Passed

The recent long weekend had a small family gathering, under the provincial limits and we all took our precautions getting in and out. That wasn’t enough, and we became a cluster of COVID positive cases, including myself. My symptoms have been mild, aside from exhaustion. That was not the case for others. Fevers, loss of senses, difficulty breathing, aches. The worst off was my grandfather, near 90, who ended up in the ICU a week ago on an O2 feed.

He passed away peacefully this Saturday. The nurses did all they could, and this crazy pandemic meant that only my sister was able to visit him during his final moments. We were able to video chat during the day, where he could hear us but not respond verbally. Myself, wife ands kids were all able to say our goodbyes and most importantly, our thank you for the live he lived and lessons he shared.

He was a driven man, busier during his retirement than most people would be with work and a kids to keep them going. He was in great shape, walking hours a day regardless of the weather. Last year he fell from a 12 foot ladder, hit his head, drove 6hours, was hospitalized and drilled 2 holes to drain the blood, and was walking within a week. He had pride in what he had, what he could share, and more so with his family. He’d often mention how he was happy we were all successful in our own measures, that he had passed on good values.

He was my godfather, and I don’t know a time without him in my life. He came to my hockey games when I was a kid, I spend summers with him and my grandmother at the cottage. He always welcomed us with open arms, and a full fridge. He read multiple papers every day, always wanting to stay current with events. He’d read piles of books and love to debate any item you could think of. But he was different, he would accept other information and change his perspective. He adapted to every challenge, always pushed forward.

He kept things orderly and neat without it being obsessive. He was collected, and thought things through without reacting. He would recall stories from 40 years ago like they were yesterday, and he was always a meeting new people and striking up conversations. He liked pretty much everybody, as long as they treated others with respect. Something we learned at a young age (and being French, there’s a nuance to this in addressing elders and strangers).

I’m full of memories of my childhood. BBQs at his place. Shooting balls against his garage door. Going fishing our on the river. Collecting blueberries. Mowing the lawn. The stories. The cribbage games. The summers at the cottage. The dance at my uncle’s wedding. A trip to the family’s sugar bush. Long rides up to the cottage and getting busted for speeding. Lunch along the river. Country music. The Christmas parties with more presents than floor space. Watching hockey games on Saturday nights. Miles of memories for me alone. There are hundreds more with my kids, who were more than fortunate enough to have met their great grandfather.

A bit more than a year ago he put all his affairs in order. He sold his house, transferred the cottage to my dad, gave us all pieces of art or dishes from his home. He had said repeatedly that he had done all he wanted to do, that everything from then on was just extra time to enjoy. When my cousin got married last year, he was the best man, and I could not have imagined a bigger smile. He was content that all his grandkids were in a good space, and life goals were complete – no worries left.

My grandfather was a great man. Without question he taught me values through his actions that have made me a better person. He enriched the lives of everyone who knew him. He lived a full life, without regret. I can only hope to honour that memory.

I love my grandfather. I miss my grandfather.

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.