Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What one should not eat, or so they say.

Bread. Chocolate cake. Toll House cookies. Ice cream. Danish pastry. Coffee cake. Croissants. Cotton candy. Gummy bears. Snickers bars. Pasta. White rice. Hot fudge. Chocolate. Sugar. Flour. Salt. Butter. Oreos. Fritos. Potato chips. Popcorn. Mac-and-cheese. Eclairs. Junior Mints. Smartees. Frosted Flakes. Pixie Stix. Tortilla chips. Gravy. Potatoes. Pancakes. French toast. Eggs Benedict. Hamburgers. Bacon. Christmas cookies. Rum balls. Girl Scout cookies. Toblerone. Hershey’s Kisses with Almonds, Mounds bars. Macaroons. Cupcakes. Donuts. English muffins. Deep-dish pizza. Necco wafers. Hot dogs. Cracker Jacks. Chocolate frappes. Big Macs. French fries.

Glue. Dirt. Dryer lint.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Global Village.

I have a Japanese rice cooker. It plays a Scottish jig when the rice is done.

Friday, September 2, 2011

They're just not that into you, Mr. President.

As the White House dithers around Mr. Obama’s jobs speech next Thursday (after a ridiculous back-and-forth with John Boehner about the scheduling), I find myself wondering why the administration is acting like a loser who keeps dating jerks.

So I turned to the bestselling book He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, and found dead-on descriptions of what the President has experienced with the Republicans in Congress, along with some very good advice:

It’s quite clear that the Republicans are just not that into you, Mr. Obama. If they were, they’d be trying harder:

"A man who wants to make a relationship work will move mountains to keep the woman he loves."

And yet you keep trying.

"We're taught that in life, we should try to look on the bright side. Not in this case. In this case, assume rejection first. Assume you're the rule, not the exception. It's liberating.”

You act as if the Republicans are as good as their word, and you don’t call them on it publicly when they don’t follow through on their promises of true bipartisanship.

"We have become a sloppy bunch of people. We say things we don't mean. We make promises we don't keep. "I'll call you." "Let's get together." We know we won't. On the Human Interaction Stock Exchange, our words have lost almost all their value. And the spiral continues, as we now don't even expect people to keep their word; in fact we might even be embarrassed to point out to the dirty liar that they never did what they said they'd do. So if a guy you're dating doesn't call when he says he's going to, why should that be such a big deal? Because you should be dating a man who's at least as good as his word."

Remember when you were meeting with John Boehner about the big budget initiative—until Mr. Boehner walked out and refused to take your phone calls?

"There's nothing worse, in dating terms, nothing worse, than that sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when it looks like the guy you were seeing or getting to know has decided to bail on you instead of talking to you about it. Nothing worse."
"Don't ask yourself what you did wrong or how you could have done it differently. Don't waste your valuable heart and mind trying to figure out why he did what he did. Or thinking back on all the things he said, and wondering what was the truth and what was the lie.”

In the end, maybe this is where you will find yourself:

“Every movie we see, Every story we're told implores us to wait for it, the third act twist, the unexpected declaration of love, the exception to the rule. But sometimes we're so focused on finding our happy ending we don't learn how to read the signs. How to tell from the ones who want us and the ones who don't, the ones who will stay and the ones who will leave. And maybe a happy ending doesn't include a guy, maybe... it's you, on your own, picking up the pieces and starting over, freeing yourself up for something better in the future. Maybe the happy ending is... just... moving on. Or maybe the happy ending is this, knowing after all the unreturned phone calls, broken-hearts, through the blunders and misread signals, through all the pain and embarrassment you never gave up hope."

Not good enough, sir. The country needs far more than that. I am hoping that you come out swinging, with a hugely audacious plan you believe in and evangelize everywhere, every day. A plan to put tens of thousands of people back to work, rebuilding our infrastructure and renovating school buildings, making them safer, more energy-efficient, and better places for our kids to learn. And that, rather than cutting spending for programs that truly do make a difference, you go after more revenue from those who have exploited the system for their own profit.

"It's very tempting when you really want to be with someone to settle for much, much less — even a vague pathetic facsimile of less — than you would have ever imagined. Remember always what you set out to get and please don't settle for less.”

Let the Republicans hoist themselves on their own petard, as they rally around the billionaires and the bankers—the supposed job-creators who, in spite of tax cuts and loopholes, have yet to create the jobs Americans so badly want and need.

It’s past time to keep playing their game, Mr. President, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The bottom line is this: they’re just not that into you. Kick ‘em to the curb and reach for your ideals. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for us.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

You can't handle the truth.

I've received a few online messages in the past few days from well-meaning friends passing on information they got online, either via Facebook or email. In both cases, the information was either completely false or mostly so. One was a fake Amber alert – and everyone, bless their hearts, wants to help find kidnapped children. Unfortunately, few people stopped to check it out on the Amber alert website [] or on one of the other websites [] that tries to verify email and internet rumors. That anyone would create a fake Amber alert is unthinkable; that we have to verify urgent Amber alerts is just sad.

In this era of intense national politics, I’ve been disappointed to see how many people on all sides of the various arguments are just repeating what they’ve heard about the details of proposed legislation, what some politician has avowed or disavowed, or where the president was born and what his religious affiliation really is.

Information comes at us from a seemingly infinite range of sources, online and off. Some people trust Fox News, some trust talk radio, others trust the NY Times and NPR, and still others look to Jon Stewart. We whack each other over the head with whatever we’ve decided to believe, wielding “the truth” like a weapon. When those ”truths” collide—as they so often do--there’s no winning, and no clear way forward to sort it all out. People don’t want to take the time to find out for themselves. It’s all too easy to be exposed to misinformation, and way too hard to get the unvarnished facts. And even when people on opposite sides of an issue look at the same data, their interpretations of it can vary widely.

So the question is: what to do? I try to do some research on political issues on my own, looking at data from the Congressional Budget Office and tracking down truths/half-truths/pants-on-fire lies at Politifact online. But in the end, there's just too much information, too much to read, assess, interpret, and digest. Way too much.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Democracy doesn’t work absolutely. That is to say: democracy requires compromise, not absolutes. Rigid adherence to economic theology—on all sides of this debate—is not representative government. Millions of people live in this country, and we don’t all agree on how things (anything, really) should be done. But we all live here together, and so we need to get along, negotiate compromises, and get to solutions that meet at least some of each side’s goals.

At the end of the day, this isn’t about governing, it’s about politics, money, and power. It’s about making it impossible for Mr. Obama to succeed at anything, so the GOP can claim the White House in 2012. And if they do, then what? Lead in our water, health insurance premiums through the roof, the super-rich getting super-richer?

Since 2008, the Republicans have been far more invested in seeing Mr. Obama fail than in seeing the country succeed. Their cynicism is overt, with their talk of how this debt ceiling debate is hurting the “Republican brand” and stating publicly (from the start of his presidency) that their main goal is ensuring that Mr. Obama is a one-term president.

* * * *

I continue to be amazed that the people who are most likely to suffer at the hands of the robber barons are the people who most enthusiastically support them.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Fall in Love with Your Life

My current advice to everyone is this: fall in love with your life. Pursue the things that bring you joy. Let go of things that don't. Know the difference.

Make it intentional. Make it your goal. Make it your reality.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April fools

  • The Republicans in the House
  • South Dakota (with its too-intrusive anti-abortion policy and its not-intrusive-enough firearms laws)
  • Mississippi (the state where it's safer to stay in the womb, with highest child mortality rate in the country)
  • The Koch brothers
  • General Electric
  • The culture wars: sheer idiocy vs. total chaos
  • Michele Bachmann
  • Newt Gingrich
  • U.S. energy policy
  • Everyone, everywhere, who denies our role in global warming
  • Donald Trump
  • Orrin Hatch (The only thing I ever liked about the guy was that he used to play bridge with Teddy Kennedy.)
  • AMC and the producers of "Madmen"
  • The NFL
  • Today's weather

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lessons Learned

I’ve been managing people at O’Reilly and elsewhere for over 25 years now. I’ve made boatloads of mistakes during that time, but I've learned a lot, too:
  1. Manage up and out, not down. Represent the best interests of your group by managing your manager. When the people who report to you need support and guidance, step in.
  2. Understand that it’s not about you. If you don’t get that, you’ll never be a good manager. Or a good employee.
  3. Treat your employees like adults. You’re not their parent or their third grade teacher. You’re a mentor and advisor. You define the goals and objectives for the group and for each employee. And then you help them do what it takes to get there.
  4. Be as committed to your employees’ success as you are to the success of the company. And vice versa. One feeds the other.
  5. Let go of controlling how people do their jobs. As long as people are doing their jobs effectively, let go of the how and keep your eye on the desired results. Insisting that things be done only your way prevents your employees from developing their own ideas, and limits the organization as a whole. Your employees are not extensions of you. Give them room to do it their way, as long as they’re not disrupting anyone else’s work and you’re getting the outcomes you’re looking for (or, odds are, better outcomes than you envisioned).
  6. Don't forget that you don’t have to have all of the answers. Your job is to figure out what questions to ask, and to work with your employees to find the answers. Collaborate with them to solve problems, and ask for their help when you need it: it’s a two-way street. If employees are always coming to you for answers, they don’t develop the kind of independent thinking that results in big benefits in the long run. Challenge them to figure things out for themselves; be there to advise and consult.
  7. Let people make their own mistakes, and don’t come down hard on them when things go awry or fall through the cracks. If you have good relationships with your employees, they don’t want to disappoint you. They feel bad enough about making errors. If people don’t feel that they’re empowered to make decisions—and allowed to make some mistakes—they’ll turn to you to make all of the decisions. That’s not helping anyone, especially you.
  8. Don’t ask questions without context. “Did you know about this?” in email can make an employee wonder whether you’re pleased with whatever you’re referring to or if you’re asking what their culpability in the situation is. Not knowing what’s behind the question makes it feel like a trap.
  9. Try not to put people on the defensive. It makes them far more likely to develop the habit of covering their asses (CYA) rather than doing things that might lead to new and useful developments.
  10. Avoid contempt. Try to keep it out of your attitude and out of your voice, no matter how you may feel about some of your colleagues and their work. Perhaps you need to spend a little time examining what’s behind any contempt you may feel, as it probably says a lot more about you than it does about anyone else.
  11. Don’t be harsh with your employees. You can register disappointment without raising your voice and/or being a jerk. Being harsh with your employees puts them in self-protective mode. They’re less likely to seek your guidance and advice. Less likely to tell you what’s really going on. And more likely to be afraid to take on additional responsibility.

    Harshness makes people contract and harden, not expand and flow. It makes them feel incompetent, erodes their self-confidence, and causes them to second-guess themselves far too often. It makes them afraid of you, which is counter-productive (and not much fun for either of you). Working with you should be a positive experience, not a minefield your employees have to tread carefully.
  1. Take responsibility for your actions. If anything you’ve done has added to a problem, own up to it.
  2. Give your employees context. Explain what’s going on in the company, or with a new initiative. Tell them what they need to know to understand how what they’re doing fits into the big picture.
  3. If you can, give each employee meaningful responsibility for something: make each one the go-to person on a project, an ongoing task, a topic area. Give them ownership. Be clear about your expectations and then get out of the way. Pay attention but don’t micromanage. When other people come to you with questions, first direct them to the person responsible for that area. Be there to advise and support, and guide them back on track if you see things going off the rails. And then get out of the way again.
  4. If someone’s behavior is inappropriate, discuss it in private. Getting your knuckles rapped in front of your peers is humiliating. Don’t put your employees in a situation where your actions cause them to lose face in front of others. Note I said “discuss” the behavior. No yelling. Be clear and straightforward with your feedback. And give them a chance to explain.
  5. Don’t speak negatively about an employee with his/her peers.
  6. Give your employees overt, public credit for their successes. And when they do something well, let them know that you noticed—and that you appreciate it.
  7. Meet with your employees privately at least once a quarter to check in. This is in addition to the day-to-day interactions you may have. There should be no surprises on their annual performance reviews. They need to know how they’re doing – and you need to know what they’re struggling with – on an ongoing basis.
  8. Give people your complete attention when you’re interacting with them one-on-one or as a group. 1) It’s way more efficient than trying to multitask, and 2) it lets people know that you take their concerns seriously.
  9. Listen at least as much as you talk.
  10. Ask for feedback on your performance as their manager. Find out what your employees think you might do better in general, what you could do to help them more effectively, what you perhaps should stop doing. LISTEN. Acknowledge what they’ve told you. It’s fine to explain the things you feel you need to, but wait until the person giving feedback has said their piece. Avoid sounding defensive.
  11. Know when to cut your losses. If you have given an employee as much support and guidance as you can and they’re not able to perform up to the requirements of the job, help them move on. If it’s not a fit, it’s not a fit, and there’s nothing that either of you need to apologize for. That may mean letting them go or suggesting other, more appropriate opportunities for them in the company. Don’t let situations that aren’t working fester. Do what you need to do for the employee, your group, and the best interests of the company.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Why every family should include at least one marine biologist

My nephew Adam is getting his PhD in Marine Biology. A few years ago he took me way out into the Everglades to catch and tag a few alligators. It was a blast.

Adam is a very handy resource when it comes to important marine biology topics. Note this recent email exchange:

Hey, Marine Biologist -

CSI Miami's latest episode opens with a guy on his cellphone stepping into his swimming pool, not noticing that there's an alligator in the pool. Which, of course, proceeds to attack him, making for a nice bloody dramatic beginning. Questions for you:

1. Would the alligator survive the chlorine?

2. Would an alligator in a pool automatically go after a human? If not, what would make an alligator attack someone in a swimming pool? (Not a super-big alligator, either.)

Just wondering. I know everything on TV is true (especially on CSI: Miami)...

- Your favorite auntie

* * * * *

Hey Auntie E,

Yes, an alligator could survive in a chlorine treated pool, but not for a really long time (like months). Gators can survive being exposed to almost anything for short periods of time (days - weeks) as long as they keep their mouth closed because their oral cavity is pretty much the only part of their body that contains highly permeable surfaces and therefore is the site for most ion exchange with their environment (i.e. chlorine, salt, etc.). If they don't open their mouths, they don't get exposed and it's all good in gator land.

An alligator would not automatically attack a human in a pool. Depends on the size of the gator and the size of the human. Alligators generally don't go after prey that are bigger than they are, though there are exceptions to the rule (e.g., deer). What would happen in the pool, I think, is that the gator would sense a human entering the pool through the vibrations on the water surface caused by their entry (they sense these vibrations with their "dome pressure receptors" located on their mouth), and also by the noise of course. The alligator would come over the the human to check it out and inspect the situation, and then it would decide to attack or not attack based on the human's size relative to it and its own hunger level. Gators also like the element of surprise, so if the human saw the gator and started trying to hit it or punch it in the mouth or something like that then the gator might decide that attacking wouldn't be worth it. If the gator on the show was small (less than 6 ft. or so) and the human was a big adult then I think most likely the gator would not attack, at least not immediately.

glad my PhD learnin' is proving to be useful in many contexts