Website, Reboot

General ramblings about web coding, life and other stuff

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Solving the Email Problem

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You have an email problem. So do I. We all do. We get too much of it and we don’t know how to handle it. We sit down at our desk and see an inbox of hundreds of emails, maybe even thousands, and we despair. It’s too overwhelming. Too much to deal with. How do you get through that mountain?

I hope to be able to help you. It’s a simple system and I’ve done it for 10+ years. I used to get a few hundred emails a day. I still get over a hundred a day now, but my inbox usually hovers between 10 and 20 messages. Right now, I’m at 12, but mostly because I haven’t processed them yet.

It’s important to remember that reading email is not your job. It’s certainly part of your job, but producing widgets (or code, or reports, or whatever) is your job. The goal is to reduce the amount of time you spend mucking around in email. Is “Reading and responding to email in a timely manner” part of your job description or performance plan? I didn’t think so… :)

So here we go.

Getting Started

First, don’t look at your email as it comes in. The popups, the notifications, the “You’ve got mail!” alerts. Turn them off. Seriously. Go do that right now. I’ll wait.

Ok, done? Look! The world hasn’t ended. You don’t know if there’s something urgent to respond to! Oh no! In all reality, if it were truly urgent, someone would call you. Or send you an instant message. Or direct message you on twitter. Or something. Generally, the email can wait a half hour or an hour. (We’ll get back to urgent messages later.)

The reason for turning off the notifications is to turn off the distraction so you can actually work. Because the constant checking of email really does get in the way, doesn’t it? Slows you down. Saps your attention. Distracts you from the thought processing needed to write that report, code that module, update that content. (By the way, the same goes for twitter, facebook, google chat, etc. Turn those off, too, if you want to work.)

Enjoy the blissful focus. Put on some music even, knowing that your trusty mail program, whatever it may be, will store your emails reliably until you, and only you, decide to read them. Because checking your messages as they come in is allowing someone else to dictate the flow of your day.

The Overview

Clock-iconThe general process goes like this: set aside two or three times a day (no more than this) to sit down and process your email. I’ll get into processing in a moment. You may also choose to check your email once an hour should you think you might get some truly urgent, business critical message, but when you do check, you’re only checking. You’re not processing. You’re not acting. You’re only checking. If it’s not urgent, it sits until your next processing time. When you’re done, close or hide your mail program.

When to process? For me it ends up being mid-morning and mid-afternoon.  Maybe 9:30 or so and 3:30-ish. These are flexible times but generally I process my email twice a day and I look at it roughly once an hour otherwise. Since you’re only processing twice a day you could even close your email program! (or gmail window) I know! It’s a crazy thought! I can’t tell you how much work I’ve gotten done when I’ve accidentally had my email program completely closed.

The Processing

Here’s where the fun begins. Processing your email means reading it and making a decision. Try to do this in an uninterrupted manner. Deciding what to do with a message means a bit of focus and you don’t want too many distractions.

My experience has shown that my email comes in three forms. Yours probably does too.

  1. Something you need to do.
  2. Something you need to remember.
  3. Something you need to read but not remember.

That’s it. Each message will fall under one of these three headings. Let’s look at them in detail, starting from the bottom.

Also, process your emails from the oldest to the newest. If you always start with the newest, the old ones tend to not get any love from you and may stagnate. This will account for when you are out of the office for a day or even a week. The oldest things will not get forgotten. And believe me when I say that you can use this process after a week-long vacation. You may have 400 emails to process and it may take you two hours, but it will work.

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#3 is the easiest. It’s a funny article someone sent you or a notification about that bake sale where they always have the yummy chocolate chip cookies. But you don’t really need to remember it, so you can delete it. Read it, delete it. Boom. Done. Gone. One less message to worry about. (If that bake sale needs a calendar entry to remind you, this message is a #1, not a #3.)

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#2 is requires a little more explanation. This type of message is something you might need to refer to in the future. An article related to a project you’re working on. Some instructions for logging into that website that you’ll need from time to time.

There is some setup work is required on your part for these messages. You must set up some folders (or the equivalent) in which to move and store your messages. For me, it’s often broken into the projects I’m working on that year. I tend to create folders (in OS X Mail) as I need them and based on whether I think that I will have more messages to add as the year goes on. (We’ll talk about the “this year” idea later.)

I’m writing this in April, so since January I have created 14 project folders and one “Miscellaneous” folder for things that aren’t project-related but I do want to remember.

What’s the point of all these folders? Well, first they are all searchable. But you can also search within a folder for emails related to only that project. Regardless, it’s not always helpful to have one giant folder containing all 5,000 messages that you’ve saved. There have been times where a search has failed me and I’ve had to go through and find the message by hand. Doing this in a folder containing a few hundred is much easier than a few thousand.

Remember that for all the emails that fall under #2 you haven’t actually had to do anything with them. It’s just read and file. Read and file.

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#1 is the most tricky because these require some more decision making above and beyond whether it’s #1, #2 or #3.

(Note: The process I describe in #1 is a small part of the GTD process taught by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.)

Read the message. If it’s something you can complete in 2 minutes or less, do it now. Go ahead. Just knock it out. Send the reply. Make the setting on the website. Fix that typo in the content. Make that calendar entry. But the rule is less than 2 minutes. If there’s the possibility that it will be more than that, don’t do it now. Let it wait. When you’re done with the 2-minute task, reply only if necessary (hah! Does the reply take less than 2 minutes?) and file or delete. (Because once you’ve done the task, it’s now a #2 or #3 message so you can decide to keep it or not.)

If it’s more than 2 minutes, then it needs to go somewhere. This is where the GTD process really comes into play. I’m not going to get into it here, but the core of GTD is to have a todo-list sort of thing that you trust to keep you on top of the things you need to do. Since the email message is something you need to do, make an entry in your todo list and then file the email message.

Above all else:

Do Not Use Your Inbox As Your ToDo List

This is crucial. If you use your inbox as your todo list, then it’s a todo list that other people can add to. This is the path to crazy land. By consciously moving the item to your own todo list, you are making the choice to take on that task. If you don’t want add it to your list, then you can reply to the message, discuss an alternate solution, or decide who might be better suited to the task.

I understand that this is getting into the area of what your responsibilities and duties are, which is a more philosophical discussion and is not really suitable to this post. How you take on work is totally part of where you work and your corporate culture, but you can still have a todo list.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “But what if my todo list just starts getting insanely long?” Well, by only processing email twice a day, you’ve given yourself more focus to actually do your work. But you’re working from the todo list, which is always open, whereas your email is closed or otherwise hidden. (Right?)

(That said, there are things that have been on my list for months. Apparently they are low-priority. I hope…)

Long-term handling of your email

Over time, projects will begin and end and your list of folders will need to be managed and culled. The routine is simple: At the end of the calendar year (Dec 31 or even a few days before) move all of you project folders into a folder for the year, “2012”, for example. On Jan 1, start creating new folders, even if they end up being the same as last year’s.

This helps keep the number of messages down within each project folder and yet you’re still able to go back and search last year’s folders. My experience has shown that by the time March rolls around, I’m never checking the prior year’s folders for current projects. After that, it’s probably once or twice a year that I will need to go back in time to search any of my archives at all.

And this begs the question: did I need to file all those emails after all? (oooh, deep question!)

How to reduce the amount of email overall

Document-Help-iconWe get and send a lot of email. There are a few things we can do to reduce the amount that we send and receive.

First, sometimes adding your entire message to the subject, especially if it’s short, may save the person from having to open the message. Something like “Pls call me when you get a chance?” They don’t need to open the message which saves a bit of time. (Also, use “EOM” in the subject to indicate that the message doesn’t need to be opened. EOM = End of Message.)

Second, send things that are only necessary.

  • Want to see if someone’s available for lunch? Call them. :)
  • If there’s a back-and-forth that’s needed, set up a 15 minute meeting. It’ll be faster to talk than to type anyway. (A good rule of thumb is whether or not the discussion will need more than one reply. One reply, email. More than one, face-to-face.)
  • If the whole body of a message is “Thanks” or “Have a great day”, maybe saying that in person is a better option. Some people may even like being thanked in person! And they don’t have to spend 5 or 10 seconds reading and deleting the message.

Third, if the message is an FYI or an article of some sort, include some information at the top about why the message is relevant, or include a crucial excerpt that highlights the importance of the message. If you’re relaying a news article or a message to everyone in your department, make sure it’s applicable to everyone. If it’s not, send it to those who would most benefit from it.

(As an exercise, Let’s assume you have 100 people in your organization, the message is applicable to 10 of them, and 90 of them have to take 30 seconds to skim the message to decide if it’s important. That’s a total 45 people-minutes of company time lost due to one email message.)

Fourth, if it’s applicable (“Here’s the info you requested…”) you can indicate to someone that they don’t need to reply to your message by adding NNTR (No Need To Reply) at the end. This may save them from typing the “Thanks” message and save you from reading it. Eventually people will catch on and start using it themselves.

Summary

I know I’ve covered a number of things here, but the important bits are:

  • Set aside time twice a day to read email. Close or hide it completely otherwise.
  • Process your emails in the order you receive them.
  • File messages you need, delete messages you don’t need.
  • Do it now if it’s 2 minutes or less. Add it to your todo list if it’s more.
  • Don’t use your inbox as a todo list.
  • Use good etiquette and don’t send unnecessary emails.

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Cruise Crazy ³

A third year, a third JoCo Cruise Crazy, a third year of insane fun, late nights, good friends, excellent music, mediocre dinners and did I mention the good friends? Yeah, that.

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Jonathan Coulton, the man of the week

The week started off on a middle note for me. I was a bit angsty about things early on and I was a bit snappish with people. This was pointed out to me by my ever-patient wife. I did my best to keep my cool, but there were times where I forgot myself and I let my temper get the better of me. If you were on the receiving end of that, I humbly beg your forgiveness.

It got better, though, and I was finally able to relax and let go by tuesday or wednesday and truly enjoy the cruise. It seemed to go pretty fast, but when I look back, there was so much that was going on that things that I remember seemed to take place weeks ago, when it was really days ago.

So here are some highlights:

On saturday, we learned that an important suitcase had been forgotten at the airport. Sara Chicazul needed to pick up her rental cello from the music store. I had a car. You can see where this is going, right? :) We drove. A lot. To the airport, to the craft store, to the music store, back to the hotel. We were gone about 4 hours. We talked a long time (what else is there to do?) and covered a lot of topics, all of which I won’t go into here. I got to know my friend much better. She is a quirky, some would say, strange woman, but also terribly intelligent, perceptive, kind and caring. I think that road trip is one of the highlights of the week for me.

Also on saturday, we learned that two of our good friends weren’t going to make it on the cruise due to the weather in Boston. We were very sad because we were looking forward to seeing them very much. Early the next morning, we heard they had a lead on a flight that had been rescheduled and were going to  try to make it. Later in the day, about an hour before everyone had to be on board, I texted him. Moments later, they walk into the conference room for registration. Woohoo! Rejoicing! My snorkeling buddy made it! it was awesome!

Snorkeling

Sunken canon and fish

Speaking of snorkeling, I am definitely doing that again. The snorkel part, which shall remain unnamed, was fun, to a point. It seemed to me that the company who owns the snorkel park was doing the bare minimum to get tourists to give them money. The park was situated on a rather rocky shore, but we still did see some fish and a sunken helicopter, an old cannon, a barracuda, some nasty looking spiny sea urchins and some fish. The best part of the day was getting to spend it with my friend, which was really worth it.

Concerts, parties, drinking, hot tubbing at midnight in gale force winds. Those are things that happend. I will not recount them.

The best I can say is that though I had a good time, it was a mixed week for me. Overall, the week went by very fast. I didn’t get much sleep and was busy doing something all the time, be it running errands for the staff, partying it up, dining, going to shows, trying to tie a &$#@! bowtie. But the week started off on a down note and picked up over the course of the week.

A few hiccups on my part early on with the volunteering thing kinda got me down, but I had to force myself to let it go and start enjoying myself. Eventually things fell into place and I forced myself to have fun, but maybe not to go so far as singing karaoke. Maybe next year.

And yes, we are going again next year. How could we miss this? :) The best part for me is seeing friends I don’t often get to see, and making new friends. Next year, more friends, right? Right.

See more photos here! //www.flickr.com/photos/cajunjoel/sets/72157632801755376

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A New Year

A launch of the space shuttle. Suitable as I am sort of relaunching the site.

A launch of the space shuttle. Suitable as I am sort of relaunching the site.

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It’s been eight days since my last post. I have thought of posting every day since the, but I find it hard to. See, even though I have this blog and I have a general persona on the web, I am still worried about posting too much deeply personal stuff on the web.

Ok, that’s a lie. I’m lazy. Plain and simple. (But I also like to keep private things private.)

At the beginning of the year, I told myself I would post at least once a week, and so far I find it hard to remember or think of something to write about or make the time. So this time, now that I’m sitting here, I think I’ll give you a stream of consciousness as it were and tell you the first thing which comes to my mind, which is who I am.

Is it telling that the first thing that I gravitate towards is my job? I think so. Why do I first identify that when talking about myself? Is it the old Washington DC thing of asking people what they do for a living as small talk? Forget that. Small talk is lame. (But I do love my job, more on that later)

So who am I? What am I? I am a husband, a friend, a companion, a caretaker, a problem-solver and a cook. I am intelligent, often ingenious, rational, and possibly too intellectual for my emotional side (something I am working on.) I am generous and kind, understanding and friendly. I am fun loving and enjoy spontaneity.  I work for possibly one of the best organizations in the world and I am proud to be part of such a group of amazing people. Three years in, I still find myself tickled that I work there and that there wasn’t some MENSA-like test that I had to pass to work there.

That’s not to say that I am not challenged daily in a variety of ways, both professionally and personally. I think this blog is a place in which I can easily get into the professional challenges, but the personal ones are a bit more difficult as they don’t always just deal with me. That’s a fine line to walk. A lot of the challenges that I encounter on a daily basis do stem from my internal processing of what goes on the world. Something that I think that is probably average for everyone but in which I see flaws in me that I can improve upon to be happier, healthier and so on.

So as the new year begins (OK, we’re over two weeks in) I’m reevaluating what this blog is going to be and what it will mean and hopefully will give the seven of you who are reading this a reason to keep coming back.

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MAGFest 2012

So… Mag fest happened. I didn’t really known what to expect, except for

  • A lot of nerds (9000 as it turns out)
  • A lot of fun (goes without saying)
  • Very little sleep (also goes without saying)

The con went from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon, which was more time than I had from work what with the New Year holiday the weekend before. Too much going on at work meant that I couldn’t take that much time off from work. That’s OK, this time I could afford to miss some of MAGfest in order to balance things out.

First a side note: I am not as wired as most of my friends. I do not have a smartphone with unlimited text and data or whatever so the biggest headache was not really being able to be in contact to coordinate with people for dinner, panels, hanging out or whatever. My dumbphone can do text, but it’s damn hard to type on and the battery life is iffy.

So, I figured out that I need to have a better way of being able to find people and communicate with them during the con. This is a must for PAX East. Currently I am looking at something under the Virgin Mobile banner since I really don’t want the distraction of being connected all. the. time. and I’ve pretty much gotten over the whole 2-year contract garbage from the other carriers.

Part the second, I need to plan better to go to the things I want to go to and the things that I want to see. Ahead of time. And stick too it. Not that I am complaining, I had an amazing time doing what I did at MAGFest, but I know that for PAX East I will need to be a bit more attentive to that and plan a bit better and make a decision to do this and not that and know that I am making the choice (or not making the choice).

I think the highlights of the weekend are topped by the after-party in a hotel room (that wasn’t shut down by security, though they did pay us a visit) in which I got to met some of the members of The Protomen right after seeing them for the first time ever. They really rocked the house. Both times!

That’s a highlight on a weekend that was lit up by spending time with my friends the entire time, some new and some old. I reserve the word epic for rare cases, but this came close. If PAX is anything like this then it’s going to be truly epic. :)

Some personal notes:

Zulahni, it was awesome to meet and hang out with you on Saturday. JCCC3 is going to be awesome!

Nicole, I’m sorry we didn’t hang out more but I know you were working and I am grateful for them time I did get to see you.

Rhaje, if you tell me there is an after-party in a smelly dark alley, I will go, no questions asked. Forget “Team Joel”, OK, the guacamole was good, but good guac doesn’t compare to the incredible people I had the pleasure of meeting. Team Rhaje!! (P.S. were you there when the googly eyes showed up? Yeah, that.)

And to all the people I met, Rachel, Abby, Danimal, Q, Mags, A.J., Josh, Christie, L.A., Casey, Ian, and (60% of) the Protomen, I hope to see you you guys next time!

 

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Early Images

One of my earliest memories is an image of my father loading some furniture and stuff into the back of our brown station wagon. I distinctly remember the lamp. The one from the living room. My dad was moving out. My parents were getting divorced.

So I have this memory and it must have affected the development of my personality, right? But if it did, I can’t see it. I don’t think it did. In some sense, the fact that my parents were divorced is just that, a fact. I am neither happy nor sad about that event. It just is. A picture on my brain. Just like so many others.

I wonder if, at the point at which I figure out how this really does affect me, I’ll be at the point that a computer is when it becomes self-aware. You know, a computer is locked up in the program that it’s working on, the tasks assigned it by a human using code. It has no extra capacity for such a level of awareness.

I think as personal development goes, when you realize with an “external mind” of sorts, how the inputs into your life (nature and nurture) affect who you are, you reach a new place in how you view yourself and your world. I’ve found that I am slowly moving to this new place step by step, yet I haven’t been able to discern if and how this memory affects me. I guess when I do, I’ll have reached the end. Maybe. :)

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Enter the Hive-Mind

I’ve been on the internet for, if I calculate correctly, since 1989. That’s 23 years or so. I first started using Compuserve in high school and then got my first internet account at college. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Very early on I discovered that there is a tremendous amount of information available out there. Data, knowledge, information, brain food. And that if you looked carefully enough and were clever enough, you could usually find the information you were looking for. Later, as the world wide web exploded into being, new companies were formed that helped us find that information better. Google (which changed searching entirely), Yahoo (remember when they used have a directory of all the websites and it was impossible to get yours listed?), WebMD (good, basic info if you can tolerate all of the promotional stuff), government, blogs, and so on. It’s all there. A clever search and sifting through a page or two of results and you could find the answer to any question. Even “how many lemmings can you fit in a phonebooth“.

Ok, I’m kidding about the lemmings, but I have yet to encounter a common question that does not have an answer somewhere on the internet. It has become part of some people’s daily process, including mine, that googling for answers to programming questions is almost all I do. It’s part of the learning experience for the language and tools that I use, but it’s still a fact. We (as developers) rely so heavily on everything to reuse tricks and techniques that others have done before us. I don’t think it stems from simple laziness. (and you still need to understand the answer you get to effectively use it.)

Shifting gears: First Gear

I work with Linked Open Data. It’s pretty cool stuff if you haven’t seen it before. A simple concept proposed by Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who essentially invented the web, to link data elements together in a way that allows them to be more easily searched by computer. It allows us to structure data in a way that can be more easily understood by computers, and therefore offer us answers to “how many lemmings can you fit in a phonebooth”. This leads us to something that is being termed “The Semantic Web” or even Web 3.0. The Linked Data that makes up this semantic web allows for something called “Semantic Search”  that better understands the intent of the user’s query. Thereby producing better results.

Shifting Gears: Second Gear

I’m also a fan of Twitter and the now-ness of what goes on there. There’s a half-joke that I’ve encountered that twitter people are referred to as the Hive-Mind: a collective intelligence, so to speak, of your followed to which you can pose a question and often get back a pretty good answer in a short period of time. It sounds funny, and oddly ominous like the Star Trek Borg, but it works. Well, except the time I asked this question recently:

//twitter.com/cajunjoel/status/278574854674993152

I think it was too advanced of a question for Twitter. :) I didn’t get any good responses.

Shifting Gears: Overdrive

My point in all this is that I see us slowly headed towards something that we only see in science fiction books. A place where all knowledge is stored and is readily accessible to all humans at any time with almost instantaneous response. More correct and reliable information bubbles to the top and false and misleading information is naturally suppressed by the very people who use it. Is it a Technological Singularity where we will be unable to survive without it? I don’t know. But I do know that we are seeing the early stages of something that is slowly and inexorably changing the world.

 

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The Amazingness of Marian Call

Something Fierce vol. I: Good Luck with That

Today is November 13th. Yeah, I know. Tuesday. Well, today is better than most Tuesdays because Marian Call is re-releasing her album Something Fierce.

I’ll wait while you go buy it. Really. Go now. You won’t regret it.

Ok? Good! Listening?

So I first heard of Marian Call when I saw her name come up as one of the entertainers on JoCo Cruise Crazy 2 which took place in February 2012. I will be the first to admit that I don’t take/have the time to pursue all of the many avenues of awesomeness that pervades the nerdy world, so it’s not surprising that I hadn’t heard of Marian Call yet. So I poked at her website a bit and looked around, had a listen to some of her music. There was some good stuff there. I moved on since it wasn’t entirely my style. Alaska, huh? That’s cool.

vol. I: Good Luck with That

But I was to get a preview of her music when she was passing through Virginia on her way to somewhere else while on tour. She stopped and played for a half hour at the Can’t Stop the Serenity event with the Northern Virginia (NOVA) Browncoats. Apparently she has this song that ties into Firefly, so I figure it’d be a good time regardless.

She seemed confident on stage, like she’s done this just a few times before [kidding!]. I also noticed that she worked the handled really well. We were all singing along as she led us through the choruses and refrains of her music. She was a natural at it. We were part of the performance, really.

And the typewriter. That was different. Typewriter as percussion. Who knew! She did, that’s for sure.

Since she was on a limited time schedule, Marian asked during a break between songs how much time she had. I was having a really good time at this point (I’ve seen Serenity a half dozen times, but I do so enjoy live music!) so I shouted out the following.

“Four more hours!”

It’s a relatively small space. Everyone heard me. A moment passes and Marian Call says into the mic:

“That’s what she said.”

And the entire room bursts into laughter, but no one laughed harder than me. I earned that, but it was worth it.

And so I started paying attention. On JoCo Cruise Crazy 2, I did this crazy cross stitch thing and I was seeking (hunting? stalking?) each of the fifteen performers on the cruise for their autographs. I ran into her one evening on the Sea View Deck and she was kind enough to stop and sign it for me. We talked a bit and then she said she was looking for someone and… oh man, I’d interrupted her! And I felt bad because she was on a mission and oh man, she’s the talent, one of the performers. Regardless, she’d been very gracious and I truly appreciate that.

Time went by and Marian released a new album and went on tour this fall again, this time on the east coast. I missed one of her house concerts here in Maryland because of a conflicting schedule. Some friends of mine were there and one of them recounted to me how, after the concert, with possibly two or three dozen people there, Marian took the time to talk to each and every one of person who wanted to talk to her, get a CD signed, say Hi, I loved your show, etc.

Marian Call and Scott Barkin on JoCo Cruise Crazy 2

I got to see this first hand when I happened to be able to go to a Ladies of Ragnarok show in Cambridge, MA. I wanted to say hi, and introduce myself, but I am also very conscious of being pushy so I sat back and watched. And I saw that either Marian is a great actor or she really and truly enjoys meeting the people who make up her fans and, in a sense, patrons. Never once did she turn someone away or show any sign of impatience or irritation or even fatigue.

Eventually I did get to talk to her, finally putting a name to a face (for her, not me) and it was good.

But I left with the feeling that Marian honestly enjoys what she does: making great music and playing before smallish groups of people. It’s not an easy life, nor is it glamorous. There’s no tour bus to sleep on, no millions of dollars rolling in, no superstar fame. But I think that’s okay, that can change a person, no matter how hard you stick to your roots.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish Marian the best of success and the most that life has to offer. I also agree with the idea (not mine) that this is how music was done in the past and a model for how it can continue to be done in the future for a host of musicians who would not have “made it” before. Doing it this way, small venues and house concerts, offers an intimacy and potential for connection with an artist that you can’t ever hope to get in an arena with 40,000 fans, or even going through a autograph line at a convention.

And so I do what I can to support this kind of effort from Marian and other musicians whose music I truly love. Because it’s amazing and awesome and so many other words that I can’t think of right now and I want to see that continue. Forever. Artists bring beauty to the world and we can’t stand by and hope that someone else provides the money for it.

So, here’s what you can do, right now. Go buy this album. Support art and the people who make it. Promote the hell out of the people you know who do this sort of thing. Tell your friends who like good music. Really good music. Music that won’t come from a worldwide record label.

Music that comes from the heart.

 

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When Bad Things Happen

I lost my watch this weekend.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, and in the past it hasn’t been, but this watch was special watch. It was given to me by my wife on our wedding day. I’d worn it on my wrist for seven years and the day I lost it, it was in my pocket. Why it was in my pocket is not important, but my pocket is usually a very safe place for my watch. Tonight it wasn’t.

Over the years, I’ve become really good at backtracking and following my steps and I did that when I realized my watch was missing. I remember it being in my pocket. I remember moving my keys from one pocket to another because I didn’t want to scratch the watch. One cab ride, one dinner and two or so hours later, as I left the restaurant I realized the watch was not in my pocket. And I do not know how this happened.

I was optimistic. It must be in my work bag. Maybe it fell out of my pocket in the booth at dinner? Or the cab? Neither reported having found a watch. I called both two times, spoke to some very helpful people (thank you, St Louis for your kind and friendly residents)

But at this point, two days later, the watch is gone. I have little hope of recovering it and now the upset and sadness sets in. There are few times where I didn’t wear the watch and I now realize how often it is that I look to my wrist to check the time.

To say that this is an exercise in acceptance is an understatement. I had to tell my wife that I lost her wedding present. I think that was harder than anything. It’s insured and I could theoretically get another, but it won’t be the same, will it? It won’t have that little dent in the metal where I once knocked it against a shelf. And I’ll be terrified of losing it again. Of going through this again.

I’ve lost things before and it’s sort of become annoying in their regularity. There’s a particular kind of water bottle that we like. Flat when empty, no bad chemicals. I’ve lost three of these while traveling. I’m tired of losing things.

I have to keep telling myself that I’ve done all I can and that it’s just a thing, but the thing had meaning to me and now that’s gone. Deep down inside I feel a sense of loss and disappointment that will continue until I accept this new aspect to my world.

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Transformations

Tunnel This weekend I attended a conference and it was arguably the best conference I’ve attended. And not really because of the content of the sessions, which was excellent And also not really due to the people I met there, who were wonderful. I think it was me.

Let’s back up a bit first. Lately, I’ve been working on working on, for lack of a better description, changing my view of and how I interact with the world. To ignore all the mental distractions, the constant chatter in my brain, the automatic negative reaction to things. To achieve a focus on the moment, the now, but also be aware of that focus and what I am thinking and feeling. This is right in line with mindfulness. Mindfulness. It’s amazing. Tell your friends.

Do you ever find yourself in a conversation with someone, maybe discussing some heated topic, and you’re so anxious to get your words out and respond that you don’t even hear (or listen to, for that matter) what the person is saying?

Yeah. That. I was that person.

I’ve come to realize that when I shut the hell up (in my chattering brain) and listen to what the person says, look them in the eye, given the 100% of my attention and truly appreciate what they are saying, that I seem to come out of it enjoying it more.

Oh, and it’s not easy to look someone in the eye. Really. Go through your day and see how often you really look at someone. And I’m not talking about all creepy stare at them and never look away. And I’m also not talking about glancing at their eye every now and then, but when they are talking to use it to show that you are paying attention.

That is a powerful thing. It shows respect and understanding. Even if you dont agree with the person, you can do this. I do this now. I found that with some effort that I can do it, with men or women, people who annoy me or people I honestly love. Doesn’t matter. And it’s amazing.

One evening, I met someone and we started talking, just chatting at the bar. We found we had something in common, something had happened to both of us that changed our lives. And I was able to listen and connect with this person. Setting aside all the distractions in the restaurant (and there were quite a few) and I truly and honestly enjoyed talking to this person and it really set the night off well.

Obviously this didn’t happen to everyone I met over the course of the weekend, but I found myself open to it and I like to think that I made some very good friends this weekend.

All through the conference, I was walking around with this stupid smile on my face. Walking up and talking to total strangers. This may sound like I’m making it out as being so easy, but it’s taken me a long time to get here. Years. Decades, maybe.

So that’s it.  This is what life is all about. You want the meaning of life. This is it. Honest connections with people. Bringing us closer using the things that we have in common rather than how we are different. Finally, there was this tweet that came across last week. It’s relevant. :)

[tweet //twitter.com/jergason/status/254641697328336897 align=’center’]

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me and 9/11

So inevitably as it will happen every Sept 11th from now until whenever, we will remember where we were on this day so many years ago when it happened, who we were talking, what street we were walking down, whatever, when a terrorist group flew two airplanes. AIRPLANES!, into the world trade center.

People will say things like “Never forget”, “Remember 9/11” and other platitudes that, to me, have come to mean less than nothing. What is there that we can never forget? How someone attacked our country? How people were killed en masse to make a political point?

What I will never forget is how 9/11 was preventable. How it was used as a tool by the political elite to consolidate power in the executive branch of our government. How it was used as a reason to spy on, detain, and curtail the rights of our own citizens in the name of “terrorism”. How in our paranoia and fear of dying (as if there aren’t worse things than death) allowed us to sit back and let our government do this because somehow it made us feel safer. How we went to war in a country where we had no business being in. How our government lied to us about this war, and further eroded whatever unity we had after the destruction of the towers. How this war brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy and further continues to destabilize our nation.

This path of us versus them (and I’m not talking about the U.S. versus Terrorists) has led us to a point in our history where if we don’t wake up, the terrorists will have won, but not because of anything they did. We’ll have done it to ourselves.

I’m sorry. Though I am still angry about the events of 9/11, of the friend I lost there and of the family members of other friends that were lost there, I’m even more angry about how it was used as a tool that hurt our country far more than anything else ever has.

So let’s get today over with. I’m done with it already.