Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stupid Habits Can Be Cured

Stupidity can be cured, but not as easily as ignorance. No, you aren't really stupid, but we all have stupid habits we should work to replace.

You are ignorant when you don't know something. If you are doing something that is pointless, or worse counterproductive, you can change your behavior and make your life better at a single stroke.

Sometimes, smart people do stupid things even when they know better. The classic example of this is smoking. It costs money, impacts your health, and wastes your time.

Sometimes, they don't do something even if it is in their own self interest. You are guilty of this if you can sign up for a tax deferred savings plan and don't. You are doubly guilty if your employer has even a partial match. They are offering to pay you more without expecting more work. How often does that happen?

Either way, ignorance becomes stupidity when you know the problem but do nothing about it. An ignorant person is either cured or acts stupidly at the moment of revelation. To cure our stupid behaviors -- even smart people have them -- we need to be aware of them.

The first step, realizing your counterproductive behavior, is both easy (recognizing an "aha" moment) and hard (acknowledging it to yourself). The second, stopping that behavior, sounds easier than it may be. It is easy for me, as a non-smoker, to not light up a smoke. For others, the challenge can be immense.

The last step, finding and implementing a productive substitute, may help. Sometimes it is easier to break a bad habit by replacing it with a good one.

For New Year, make a list of things you should stop doing. Pick one and write a plan for eliminating it or replacing it with something positive. Make a resolution and take action to be a little less stupid in 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Power of Small Changes

While I support the Japanese practice of kaizen (continuous improvement), the opportunity for improvement is not always continuous. When you buy a  car, for example, you have an opportunity to improve your fuel efficiency which cannot be improved again (except for tuneups) until you replace the car again. In such cases, even a small one time change can have a long term payoff. Let's consider an example.


Imagine that you are buying a car with an average fuel efficiency of 26 miles per gallon and that you will drive that car for 100,000 miles. In that 100,000 miles, you will burn 4000 gallons of gas. If each fillup gets you 15 gallons, that's 267 trips to the gas station.


Now, imagine that instead of 25 miles per gallon, you buy a car that averages 26. That one change saves 154 gallons of gas and eleven trips to the gas station. If a trip takes five minutes, that's almost an hour of your life saved in not filling a gas tank. You also save the cost of eleven tanks of gas.


Perhaps you prefer to get a new car more often. If you trade in at 50,000 miles, the savings for the car over a couple owners does not change. Your savings don't change either -- you just spread the savings over 2 cars instead of one. Of course, you've paid for two cars instead of one, too.  


Results get better if the difference in fuel efficiency gets greater -- if you traded up during Cash for Clunkers, you know this better than most. The same logic and similar math applies to any product with a significant life. Compact florescent lights save several times their cost over the life of the bulb, and newer CCFL and LED lights do several times better than that. You may pay a premium price for a more efficient furnace, but the payoff over its lifetime can be huge.


Almost every purchase is an opportunity to buy something that will save time, energy and money. If the product is going to be part of your life for years, put appropriate thought into life time costs, benefits and savings. Your planet and your pocket will thank you.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Gift for Yourself

Robert Grant, through the Facebook group Law Of Attraction, offered the following:

Here are some holiday season gift suggestions:

To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Life on Autopilot

If you think about it, there's a big difference between the cruise control we have in our cars and the autopilot installed in commercial jets. With autopilot, you set your destination and then make sure nothing stupid happens -- autopilot does a lot more than cruise control.

Because we're lazy, or crazy, or both, we don't take the time and effort to set up autopilot in certain areas of our lives, even though it is in our best interest to do so. Let's look at a few examples.

A few years ago, I was reading David Bach's Automatic Millionaire while waiting for lunch at a restaurant. The waiter mentioned that his manager had just given him paperwork to enter the company savings program which offered a partial match for money put into a savings program. His thought was "it's just a college job -- it isn't important." Even without an employer contribution, automated savings is something you should take the time to do. With an employer contribution, it's a no-brainer. Even so, people don't do it. If you're one of them, read Bach's book or George Clason's The Richest Man in Baylon.

Another area you should put on automatic is energy conservation. This may mean buying a programmable thermostat or motion detectors for stairway lights, but the savings can be substantial. You don't actually want that stairway light on for hours, do you? Energy efficient lights are a good idea too, but short of generating your own solar energy zero is as good as electricity usage gets and a one time investment will put this part of your life on autopilot.

Finally, look into how you can automate things on your computer. Write rules to thin out your email inbox, creating tasks you can address at your convenience. If you can, look into automatic fill processes for websites requiring passwords. Look into templates and form letters to automate your email responses to routine messages. A few minutes or dollars spent to automate things on your computer can free up huge amounts of time.

Look for chances to put parts of your life on automatic pilot, then do it. You'll thank yourself later. You might even thank me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Stroke Identification

During a BBQ, a friend stumbled and took a little fall - she assured everyone that she was fine (they offered to call paramedics) .she said she had just tripped over a brick because of her new shoes.

They got her cleaned up and got her a new plate of food. While she appeared a bit shaken up, Ingrid went about enjoying herself the rest of the evening

Ingrid's husband called later telling everyone that his wife had been taken to the hospital - (at 6:00 pm Ingrid passed away.) She had suffered a stroke at the BBQ. Had they known how to identify the signs of a stroke, perhaps Ingrid would be with us today. Some don't die. they end up in a helpless, hopeless condition instead.

It only takes a minute to read this...

A neurologist says that if he can get to a stroke victim within 3 hours he can totally reverse the effects of a stroke...totally. He said the trick was getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed, and then getting the patient medically cared for within 3 hours, which is tough.


Thank God for the sense to remember the '3' steps, STR . Read and Learn!

Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer severe brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms of a stroke.

STROKE:Remember the 1st Three Letters....S.T.R.

Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:

S *Ask the individual to SMILE.

T *Ask the person to TALK and SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE (Coherently)

(i.e. It is sunny out today.)

R*Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.

If he or she has trouble with ANY ONE of these tasks, call emergency numberimmediatelyand describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.
New Sign of a Stroke -------- Stick out Your Tongue

NOTE: Another 'sign' of a stroke is this: Ask the person to 'stick' out his tongue.. If the tongue is 'crooked', if it goes to one side or the other,that is also an indication of a stroke.

A cardiologist says if everyone who gets this e-mail sends it to 10 people; you can bet that at least one life will be saved.

Patience Lewis

Mobile: (530) 448-6650
Fax: (530) 583-2852
DRE #01103208

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fool Me Twice

Fool me once, shame on you -- fool me twice, shame on me.

Several years ago, I got caught. I received an email warning of a dire threat to my bank account. The message looked legitimate, down to appropriate logos and language. All I had to do was click on a link, which I did. Bad move -- I had been fooled once.

Baiting the Hook

Email scams rely on fear and greed. They suggest something to good to be true or too horrible to contemplate. Well crafted scams stop just short of this. They want to offer something good enough that it might be possible or just dangerous enough to raise concern without raising panic.

The one I fell for was nearly perfect. Happily , the villain did a better job on the bait than the trap. He got my email address but none of the other information he was after because his trap fell apart spectacularly. The email I got the next day apologizing for the problem was neither well done nor convincing.

An Ounce of Prevention

I had been fooled because the message came to my email address and appeared to come from my bank. Scam artists can easily make a counterfeit email look real. There's nothing to be done about that, but I realized that I have control over my email address.

I created a custom email address for each bank or business I deal with and gave that email to the other party and nobody else. I did this with Yahoo's Address Guard service, but any email address  used for only one purpose will do. Because the address is rarely used,  the chance of it being on a scam list is remote. The bank has only that email address, so an email which appears to come from them to my public email is an obvious fraud.

This plan is not foolproof. It is still possible that a scam email gets sent to your hidden email account, so you still need to be cautious. Create a distinct account for each bank, for PayPal, EBay, and any other vendor you do business with. If you have any clue that the address has been compromised, change it at once. If a problem looks real, find a way to reach the other party without using the email.

The Bottom Line

A public email address is no place to do private business. If you create custom email addresses and guard them the way you do credit cards, the few scams that reach you will be easier to spot and deal with. Don't be fooled even once if you can avoid it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Myth of Multitasking

I recently attended a workshop on stress where a participant asked if he was better off focusing his attention on one thing or working on several to reduce his risk. His concern was that if he focused on one item that didn't pan out the result could be catastrophic. The other possibility is to have several projects fail for lack of time and resources.

At some level, having multiple projects is unavoidable. We all have multiple balls in the air at once and need to juggle them somehow. Three broad strategies for dong this are diversification, multitasking and task switching. Before I attempt to answer the question, let's take a look at each.


Although the term did not come up in the workshop, diversification is a well understood and appropriate strategy for reducing risk. When your Aunt Louise tells you not to put all your eggs in one basket, she is recommending diversification. If you are diversifying to reduce risk, there are two points you should consider.
First, sometimes people believe they are diversifying when they are not. If you buy three different mutual funds tied to the same index, you've built a modest shelter against something going wrong internally at one of the funds. If the index itself takes a hit, all three funds will suffer at the same time. Diversification can be  vulnerable to a common underlying strategy or a catastrophic single point of failure.
Second,  successful diversification is a form of insurance. That means it comes with a price. In this case, the price is reduced returns. A diversified investment will pay out less than the best choice among its various pieces would.


By definition, multitasking is doing more than one thing at a time. Some people make great claims for multitasking -- I am not one of them. I limit my attempt at multitasking to listening to audio tapes while walking for exercise or driving. Anything that calls for real attention will suffer from even an attempt to multitask. If you can multitask on things you do regularly, perhaps there's something more useful, more valuable or more important that you should do instead.

Task Switching

Unless your computer has multiple processors and a corresponding operating system,  what it does is task switching, not multitasking. Task switching allows one task to complete before focus is switched to another. Tasks for projects take turns. Focus on one item at a time. This is the way jugglers really work and it is your best bet for dealing with multiple demands.

World Class Examples

When Bill Gates and Warren Buffet were asked for the secret to their success, both answered "focus." Your success depends on your ability to focus deeply and switch focus as needed. This is why I think lists of physical actions as recommended by David Allen are so useful. You also get chances to look at the bigger picture, which addresses the one real danger of focus.

The Boiling Frog

You know this story. The key here is to keep an eye on your goal while you keep focus on your tasks. One way to deal with this is to set criteria in advance so you know when to let go. It can be a delicate balance. Many goals fail just short of completion, but goals and payoffs need to make sense. Building a bridge can be great, but building a bridge to nowhere is pointless.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Science of Unshopping

Apart from impulse shopping, we all plan what we buy. If a product comes with a return policy or a warranty, you may want to plan for contingencies. Companies expect returns to be rare, even when you aren't happy. Some common sense and a little preparation will make life much easier if you decide to be the exception.

A friend of mine buys things with the expectation that many will be returned. This allows her to check products at home to see id they fit her vision. Once she has decided, she spends an evening of unshopping to return things. This seems excessive to me, but returns are much easier if you do a little planning.

Start by filing all the paperwork -- warranty, refund policy, instructions and especially the receipt. I create a separate folder for each item to keep warranty and instructions. I keep a separate folder for each store where I purchase things to hold receipts. If a product comes with a 30 day return policy, I leave a note about it on my calendar for a week before the return privilege expires. Any phone numbers, addresses, email addresses or other information I need stays with the receipt.

Another case where you may want to track dates is scheduled maintenance. Cars are the most obvious but not the only place where this applies. A calendar or tickler file will help you meet your end of a support agreement so you can make sure the manufacturer does too.

If the product fails, you can go to the product information folder to examine your warranty options. This information is kept by product because it isn't time sensitive. When the product fails, it has either outlived its warranty or it hasn't.

Finally, should you buy an extended warranty or not? An extended warranty is essentially a form of insurance, and it is offered because the offerer expects to profit by it. My rule is simple. Accept and negotiate for any warranty that is free. Don't buy an extended warranty if you can afford to replace or be without the product. If you want to see the effect, create a savings account where you pay yourself the warranty price and withdraw from it to replace failed products.

Many products come with return policies and warranties. With a little tracking and preparation, you can be in a much better position when shopping becomes unshopping or a warranty needs to be honored.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Planning for a Lifetime

If you are planning for a year, sow rice; planning for a decade, plant trees; planning for a lifetime, educate people. Chinese Proverb

In recent years, I've developed the habit of asking if proverbs like this are completely accurate. Even though I can see the point being made, sometimes a deeper truth is hidden. This proverb is a good example. It suggests how to plan for various time scales, but I'd make one tiny change. I'd start the proverb with "when" instead of "if".

I believe in long range planning. The farther ahead you look, the better your results will be. I also believe in planning for other spans of time. An educated man will have no wood unless someone has planned for a decade. He will have no rice unless someone has planned for a year.

I look at environmental issues and conservation as part of a long term plan. If I can reduce electricity usage or save water, I save cash now and make resources last longer. At that level, being green is easy. But Thomas Friedman (Hot, Flat and Crowded was right to say when it comes to conservation it is more important to change our leaders than our light bulbs. We plant rice with light bulbs. Our leaders should be planting the trees.

For longer time spans, we need to educate ourselves. Right now, our leaders are pumping money into the economy, and one place they are doing it is energy improvement projects. A few years ago, the case for solar energy collection needed a lot of money up front and took a long time to break even. Today, technology has shortened the break even time and government incentives may reduce the up front costs. There aren't many ideas better than going green uwing someone else's money to create jobs for others. Do you plan for a year, a decade, and a lifetime? Isn't it time you should?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Moment of Decision

One moment, your path is uncertain, the next you are on it. In the interim, you have crossed a moment of decision. Decisions define the course of our lives. They are that simple, that important, and that complicated. There can be a long delay between ttrhe moment of decision and the outcome that results. How do we tell when we are on that path? How do we know when a decision has really been made?

Look at a simple decision you have made many times. For example, what restaurant will you go to this time? The decision can be the result of many factors, including negotiation. If you look back, you'll see there was always a moment when one choice was taken and all others were excluded. Decisions with bigger consequences have similar moments.

One habit I have that I hope you adopt is capturing in writing anything that comes into your head. I always have something nearby to capture stray thoughts -- paper, voice recorder, cell phone, anything that works. I started this as a result of David Allen's Getting Things Done, a practice which lets me recognize moments of decision.

After you have collected your ideas, GTD asks you to process them by identifying intended results(outcomes) and next physical action.For our purposes, there are three possible results. Let's take a quick look at each.

First, your thought may have no outcome, no action, and nothing that needs saved. It's junk which can be tossed as soon as you know it for what it is. You are pruning the decision tree, making a decision against action. Everything else is still under consideration.

The vast majority of what's left goes onto a list of someday maybe items. Someday you may want to read a specific book. Maybe you'll go see that movie some day. The purpose of the list is to keep options open without making a commitment. For anything on this list, you haven't made a decision.

At some moment, I decide to commit to an action and the decision is made. The item is removed from the someday list and included as a project (outcome) on another list. More planning and organization can follow.

A decision requires a commitment and a commitment is shown by an action. Anthony Robbins has a rule to never leave the scene of a decision without taking some action to implement it. I agree, but with that action done what's the one after it? That action goes on another list. With that done, the decision has been made and the project is underway.

Decisions are so important that we need to recognize when they take place, make them often and make them as good as we can. The someday list lets you keep an idea around so you can focus on one thing at a time.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Attractiion versus Action

If you read The Secret ] by Rhonda Byrne, the first step in the law of attraction is to decide what you really want and ask for it. In Awaken The Giant Within, Anthony Robbins talks about making committed decisions and taking action on them. While they agree on deciding what you want, Byrne focuses next on believing what you want and while Robbins contends that you haven't really made a decision until you take action on it. Can both be right?

My friend Shawn has a purebred dog born to run. Macy can run long, hard and fast, and loves to do it. Last week, however, she came back from a run with a limp. Thankfully, the injury wasn't serious and she's working her way up to speed again. A dog can't run on three legs. You can't run on one leg. Each leg is there for a reason.

In 2001, Darren LaCroix won the Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking. In a recent blog article, he talks about this. He did everything he needed to do both in actions and in terms of visualizing what he wanted. He was running on both legs. See his blog.

Even a casual glance at Anthony Robbins shows that he believes in what he wants and has a positive attitude towards his projects..It is equally clear that Rhonda Byrne took huge action to turn her vision into a film.

While it may be possible to succeed with just effort or just the law of attraction, the chances are better and results come faster if you pursue both. Either path starts wit a decision, and we'll discuss making decisions next.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Leveraging Facebook with Groups

We all have events in our lies we'd like to invite friends to attend -- anytning from public programs to club meetings to the kids' soccer games. Facebook groups offer a way to make our friends aware of these events easily and noninvasively. Here's how to do so with an existing Facebook group:

First, an administrator should post the meeting as an event on the group's wall. Describe the event in a way that would be of value to members and outsiders alike. From there, you can send the noticeof the meeting out to all members of the group. This may seem almost redundant since it isn't much different from sending an email to those same people. hink of it as a necessary predecessor to the next step.

With the invitation posted, members can like, coment, or share it. Any of these gets a similar note onto the wall of all rheir friends. This is the payback for posting the event. Even if a group has only a dozen members, an average person on facebook has 120 friends. This has the potential to increase the visibility of the event by an order of magnitude if even one perosn does so -- two orders of magnigude if everyone does.

Of course there will be overlap, and of course most of the people reached will be too far away or not interested in the event. Eve so, the message gets out with almost no effort. Maybe more people will ttend the event. Maybe some will join the Facebook group. Mabe someone will talk to someone else. In the worse case, it makes your interest a bit moevisible to people who have an interest in you. Most organizations would take any one of these as long as itis free, which it is.

Try promoting your events this way and see what happens. It's just common sense.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Review of Getting Things Done by David Allen

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book ofers the most direct and structured approach to time and stress management that I have ever encountered. It offers a system for managing actions through lists that can be impemented on everything from paper to a PDA. I like the way the book provides a structure for thinking about what you do. In my opinion, the closer I come to a literal implementation of the system, the better it works.

I like the idea of getting everything you have to do, everything you should do, and everything you might want to do into an external trusted system. The framework for this external system is implementation free -- how you keep and manage the lists does not matter. The approach makes a good case for tracking physical actions rather than vague "to do" items

A key idea I like is recording phyciscal actions by context, where context covers the location or equipment needed to perform the action. Calls, at computer, at home, at office and waiting for are good examples. This structure eliminates the need to consider an action when context is inappropriate. For example. a list of calls to make is unimportant if I no phone is available.

Years after my first cotnact with the book, I still apply its ideas many times every day.

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Delaware Planning Commission October 7 2009

Delaware Planning Commission October 7 2009

Perkins Observatory supporters were among an overflow crowd attending the Delaware Planning Commission on October 7 to discuss issues on a development project proposed to be adjacent to the Observatory. Over a period of three hours, the Commission heard the developer's concept plan then took comments and questions from the audience. The developer provided an overview of building on the 9 holes of the golf course fronting US 23 while expressing hopes to satisfy the concerns of the Observatory, Methesco, and the neighboring community. Everyone, including the developer, recognized he
Observatory for the treasure it is and desired to keep the Observatory viable.

Brad Hoehne, Tom Burns, Don Stevens, Bill Hurley, Rob Lancia, Charles Biro, Dan Benway, Bill Hurley and Bob Harmon all spoke directly to the issues the Observatory would face. he biggest of these issues is proximity. Bob Harmon expressed that expressed that concern quantitatively, explaining that the
current proposal being four times closer would have sixteen times the impact. Other supporters present but not speaking included Charlie Sigrist, Bill Burton, Gary McCool, Rachel Swetnam, and Jay Elkes. A group of OWU students was also present and spoke on behalf or the Observatory.

Local residents also expressed concerns. Some were concerned about property values. Others expressed concerns about the lack of infrastructure (fire, water, etc.) the development would need. One made a compelling case that the city wold be better served by focusing this sort of effort closer to the
center of town. Development is further complicated because of jurisdictional issues -- the property touches on three townships in addition to the city of Delaware.

The Commission meets the first Wednesday of every month at 7 PM in the Delaware City Council Chamber. In the end, the City Council will decide the fate of the proposal. No immediate decisions are expected.For further discussion, please visit the Perkins Observatory Facebook page

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sanity Check Your Big Decisions

The bigger the decision you need to make, the more likely it is that you should take a sanity check. A sanity check is a simple attempt to verify that something makes sense without going through a detailed process that offers certainty. Be patient with the mathematical examples below. There are other applications.

One place where this strategy comes in handy is a multiple choice question on a timed test. Without doing the math, which of the answers to the following problem can you dismiss?


a 2564688
b 2802154
c 2802948
d 2973168

Answer d is too large because it is more than 2856*1000 =2856000 which can be done in your head. If you estimate taking away 10% of that as 26..... it is clear that answer a is too small. Finally, looking at the units digit 6*8 comes out 8 meaning answer b is wrong. Of the choices offered only c could be correct.

There is a mathematical magic trick where you ask a person to calculate the cube of any two digit number and tell you only the result. In less time than it rakes him to multiply the numbers together, you announce the original number. Cube root calculation is not involved.

One of my favorite places is Perkins Observatory, the heart of which has a large sheet metal dome. As we planned an exhibit on large numbers someone asked if a billion grains of rice could fit in the dome or not. Once we realized that billion items make up a cube 1000 by 1000 by 1000 and that 1 cm * 1000= 10 meters, a cube 10 meters on a side would hold a billion items 1 cm on a side. Our very large dome could do that, so a billion grains of rice would fit with room to spare.

This really can work on much more difficult problems. After NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope they discovered a serious flaw in the shape of the mirror. Since the mirror was designed to work in 0g space, a precise optical test would have cost a fortune. Since the smoothness of the surface was extremely good they concluded the expensive test for shape wasn't needed.

Fortunately the project team was able to sendvup an adaptive camera, basically a corrective lens analagous to a pair of glasses, to save a significant portion of the project. It wasn't cheap but it avoided a disaster.

The footnote here, something the project managers could not imagine, is that the mirror was so far off that a graduate student with simple tools would easily have seen it. Sometimes a sanity check us far more useful than a magic trick.

Sanity checks are not limited to math and physics problems. If you can make reasonable assumptions about your expectations, those assumptions provide the basis for the bounds you define. How does this apply to issues in your life?

Practice estimating upper and lower limits for problems that face you. Sometimes an approximate answer will save a lot.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Review of On Writng by Stephen King

On Writing On Writing by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Learn from those who do, and when it comes to writing there are few who do more effectively than Stephen King. part bioraphy, part tutorial on the craft of writing, the book offers advice on writing that a potential author would find very helpful. The points he makes are clearly demonstrated with actual examples.

Since I didn't read this for teh biographical pieces, I found the material on writing itself more intersting and insightful. I didn't find anything unexpected in the material, but the book nicely summarizes writing as a job. You may want to do it or not, but the job itself is clearly descrbed.

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Perkins Observtory News Update

One of my favorite places in the world, Perkins Observatory, is being threatened by a project currently being considered by the Delaware (Ohio) Planning Commission.  To be fair, nobody is trying to actively harm the Observatory or its program. A developer wants to turn  a portion of the golf course into housing and a big box department store. While Perkins attracts tens of thousands each year, it is difficult or impossible to compete with the plan based purely on a short term cost / benefit analysis. Perkins measures its success in lives impacted and the Planning Commission would be wise to take this into account.

Start with Christopher Kirchoff, who showed up as a volunteer High School Student and has gone on to many contributions at NASA including a role in the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. Erin Shea, another High School volunteer, is now doing graduate work at MIT. Finally, Rebecca Olson has moved from her volunteer days to working at the U.S. Bureau of the Census. With all the opportunities these people could have chosen from, they all volunteered at Perkins while in High School.

Each time Ohio Wesleyan hosts High School Seniors, they are shown the Observatory as something no other school of its size can compare with. In the Observatory's 86 years, there's no record of how many ended up attending Ohio Wesleyan in whole or part because of the Observatory. In years to come, the same opportunity will either be offered to coming generations of students or be unavailable as a result of this decision.

The lights from the store and the housing would end the night time programs Perkins Observatory currently offers. As Delaware contemplates its growth, the Planning Commission needs to take into account that the beautiful old building on the south side of town is home to an institution that is historic, priceless, irreplaceable and fragile.

For more information, check out the following:

Observatory website:

Observatory Facebook Page:

If you are a Facebook member, consider joining the Perkins Observatory  group. Share your story on the Faceook Wall.

Virtual tour:

The Delaware Planning Commission is expected to discuss the current development proposal at its next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 7 (Wednesday) at City Hall, just south of the intersection of Sandusky and Winter Street on Sandusky.

Attend if you can -- if not, pass this message on to others.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Scene of a Decision

Sometimes even an idea you completely accept is more difficult to practice than you would like. Practice what you preach is somehing we hear a lot precisely because it can be so hard to do.

This time, the true peacher was Anthony Robbins when he said "never leave the scene of a decision without taking some action to implement it." I first heard this advice several years ago and I try to live by it, but sometimes the world arranges things to remind me of my principles. This morning was one such instance.

Early this morning, I realized that the laundry in the hamper would take at least two loads. I realized it would need to be a laundry day and reached for a noe pad to put it on my action list -- another practice I try to follow. A moment later, the current reached my psychological light bulb. I was at the scene of a decision and ptting the decision onto a list wasn't really taking action to implement it. My two principles were having a tug of war, and I was the rope.

When Robbins offered his advice, the context I picked up on was projects with others. Getting the commitment on paper is often vital, but the real payoff comes if you can take a physical action beyond that. This morning's realization was that the relaionship between decision and action is true even if I am making a commitment to myself. Hopefully, this will make me more aware that I've made a decision and more likely to take action on it.

I responded by scooping up the clothes and putting the first load into the wash. My goal, and the lesson here, is to put in enough action that the desired result is harder to stop. As I type this, one load is in the wash and the other is drying.

Over the next day or two, challenge yorself to be aware of decisions as they are made and turn that voice in the back of your brain into a coach. What can you do to put your decision into action?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Building an Intellectual Toolkit

Have you ever used a dime to adjust a screw? If you have, you've turned a coin into a makeshift tool. If not, you can probably think of other ways you have turned available materials into tools. Archaeologists have found evidence of tool making in early man. Even so, we frequently overlook tools that others point out for us. Let's look at some examples.

Anthony Robbins, Jack Canfield, Brian Tracy and other teachers of success deliver their wisdom to us in many formats. Their books, articles, audios and movies al encourage us to change and most contain tools for implementing that change. Sometimes the authors explicitly identify tools, but even if they don't you should look at the material for the tools included within. Here are a few examples.

Questions are tools when they get us to think about the challenges we face. If you don't take a moment to consider a question seriously, the value you can get out of the material is severely limited.

Exercises are sometimes included in or at the end of each section. Take a good hard look at them. If they are relevant for you, do the work. You may want to keep a journal for doing this kind of work in.

Lists are another tool authors use to organize things. Navy crewmen are taught to follow the written instructions, no matter what. If you don't have a battleshp at stake, following a list that religiously may not be essential, but it can be useful. By creating a list when you can thionk clearly, you're less likely to miss something when youre busy. If you do something different, it may be time to update the list.

Most people don't read these material, much less identify and use the tools they contain. Of course, most people don't want to be "most people" and you probably don't either. Successful peope do the things unsuccessful people aren't willing to do. If you want to separate yourself from the pack, here are a couple things you can do right away.

As you discover a tool, catalog it. Identify the source, the author, and the context in which the too applies. Build a virtual toolbox so you can get back to an idea when you need it for yourself or someone else. To a man with only a hanmer, every problem looks like a nail, but the more tools you have the broader your perspective can be and he easier some problems are to solve. When it comes to problems, only nails are really nails.

Do the work that others aren't willing to. At the very least, ask the questions that are posed to you even if you aren't willing to take action on them. If you put the question on the back burner, your subconcions may deliver the answers later.

Finally, keep in mind that problems are solved by people, not the tools they use. Tools exist to serve you, not the other way around.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Life's Greatest Lessons by Hal Urban

Life's Greatest Lessons: 20 Things That Matter Life's Greatest Lessons: 20 Things That Matter by Hal Urban

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A great deal of the wisdom offered in this book is summarized in its table of contents. The book is organized ino twenty essays, each offering a lesson in its title and providing providing good thinking behind it in the essays. The book is simple to read and thought provoking. You can't ask more than that from nonfiction.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Are you solving the right problem?

As a software engineer for many years, I helped develop systems for dealing with problems. One big lesson I took from this is that you have to be solving the correct problem.

One program I wrote reduced a pile of data to a one page report. The manager I wrote it for laid out the calculation as he wanted it, which is what my predecessor gave him. Sometime later, I was given the job of maintaining the report for a new manager. He didn't understand how the numbers could reach the result he was seeing, so I showed him the details of the calculation. My next task was to rework the calculation according to his new specifications. As far as he was concerned, the program was solving the wrong problem.

Take some time to consider whether your problem can be solved or not. After working on a Rubik's cube for a while, I realized someone had peeled off and exchanged a couple of the colored stickers, putting them on in a way that the puzzle could not be solved. Mathematicians have demonstrated that the value of pi cannot be calculated to the last decimal place because there is no last decimal in the calculation. In this case, they had the right problem but the problem cannot be solved. They settled for approximating a solution as closely as needed.

Sometimes nobody knows if a solution exists. There are a number of well known mathematical problems where nobody knows if a solution is possible or not. Solving one of these will make you famous in that community. The leading edge of science is almost all problems where nobody knows if a solution exists.

Whether our problems are logical, mathematical, personal or goals, your chances of success are much greater if you're focusing on the correct problem. If you don't know where you're going, any road will do, but you'll never know when you've arrived.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The One Thing You Need to Know by Marcus Buckingham

The One Thing You Need to Know: ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success The One Thing You Need to Know: ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success by Marcus Buckingham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
At the top level, this book offers basic advice for improving your life in terms of something you can do. Buckingham draws on his expertise as a researcher considering alternatives and presenting real life examples to illustrate his points.

The book also offers key ideas for management and leadership, using similar illustrations to compare and contrast the roles against each other.

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Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America by Thomas L. Friedman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
According to Thomas Friedman, "it's more important to change your leaders than your lightbulbs." He discusses how global warming, population explosion, and the flat world of instant communications combine to produe a serious threat and how America in particular must take a leadership role in addressing the issues this combination of circumstances created.

The book is well researched and the last chapter in articular makes a good case on the need for leadership. Some of the other chapters had more data than I was prepared to cope with. Friedman argues, correctly I believe, that we need to deal with issues harder than the couple hundred easy ways to be more green. THe book does a good job of explaining why. I would have prefered a little more on how.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Richest Man in Babylon

Richest Man in Babylon Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A part of all you earn is yours to keep. This one thought is the key idea offered by The Richest Man in Babylon, a classic in developing wealth. The information is presented as entertaining fables and its key ideas made easily bisible with large fonts.

The book focuses on fundamentals of wealth development as a gradual process. You won't find details of current financial tools, but you do get a framework for acquiring wealth. The book is an easy read that gives great advice.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Habits for Success

  • Act decisively. A decision doesn't count until you have taken action on it. 
  • Never leave the scene of a decision without taking an action to put it into place. 
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking doesn't let you deal with issues intensively. Try switching tasks instead.
  • Ask for what you want. Be clear and specific. Ask like you expect to get it.
  • Think long term. In general, the farther ahead you think the better your actions will be.
  • Plan the work, then work the plan. 
  • Eat the ugly frog first. If you deal with the most difficult task of your day first, the rest of this day will be easy. 
  • Write down everything. Don't let an idea get lost. 
  • Pay yourself first. Develop a habit of saving as you earn.
  • Learn continuously.  The world is changing too fast to depend on what you learned in school.
  • Improve continuously. Don't make a habit of repeating your mistakes.
  • Attract success. The Law of Attraction may be nothing more than psychology, but make psychology work for you.