Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Story Behind "Micro-Soft"

I love reading about the successes, failures, and twists along the road of a success story. Paul Allen, Bill Gates, and the creation of Microsoft is one of those stories.

Particularly in the first half of the story, it's fascinating to see the drive and determination that these two men (and their employees) had. It wasn't their talent, but their perserverence, that put them where they are today.

It wasn't an easy road. It wasn't a clean road. As you'll see from the article, there were disagreements, bad decisions, and regrets. But in the end, their road was made for walking.


Music Du Jour

Some music that's been getting some repeats on my iTunes this week. (Yes, I do listen to the Black Eyed Peas on occasion - it's a good song.)

Press On

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race” - Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Don't Call It A Bucket List...

Look up the signs of ADHD. I just did. I qualified for 12 of the 17 signs. Let's be honest...this comes as no surprise to me. I was reading a blog today that had the following quote: "We are all crazy. Every person you read about had some kind of 'disorder', they just knew how to use it."

I don't know who said it, but I love that quote. I believe that quote. How do I try to 'use' my 'disorder'? Lists. I love lists. I've used them all the way through school and work. At some points in my life I'm better at using them than others, but lists save my life.

Why? My mind moves fast. Most times, it moves too fast. I constantly find myself in a conversation, taking a short detour to tell a story, then forgetting the point I was trying to make. I can't sit at a desk for 8 hours and do work. I go talk to others in different offices, I walk around, I surf the web. Sometimes, even, I write in a blog! If I think or say something, the chances of me remembering it 10 minutes later aren't favorable. It's why I love lists. Sometimes, I think a thought, think to write it down, then something else grabs my attention before I write it down. Poof! It's gone. Oops.

I've easily seen that when I start my day with a list of things I want to accomplish, sometimes adding to it throughout the day, I get a lot more accomplished. I'm trying to extend that to longer-term goals. I am currently compiling a list of 25 things I want to do before I leave for my mission. While on my mission, I plan to think of goals for the rest of my life and compile them in a journal. I don't know how this all will turn out, but it certainly can't hurt!

For someone like myself, lists have the ability to focus, energize, and drive me towards the goal I've always had but sometimes forget. That's easily seen in the day-to-day grind of life. Let's see how it translates to the longer-term. I encourage others to try the same!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

We Need More Entrepreneurs, Not Lawyers

In some downtime at work, I've been watching talks on is a great resource to learn new ideas and hear them from experts. I recently finished listening to Cameron Herold's talk "Let's raise kids to be entrepreneurs." It got me thinking.

Think of allowance - it's a simple concept. We teach kids that if you keep the status quo you will get money. Cameron Herold's alternative idea? Have kids look around the house for things that need to be done. When they find something, negotiate with parents over the value of that task. After an agreement is reached, they can complete that task. It teaches children to look outside of themselves and solve problems.

He also notes that society vilifies kids with ADD or any attention/social "deficiency". The founder of Kinkos, the founder of JetBlue, Steve Jobs, Ted Turner. What do these people have in common? All have been diagnosed with either ADD, ADHD, or bipolar disorder. We're lucky they didn't get put on medication. Our world would have lost brilliant minds and brilliant innovations.

We generally teach kids what not to do instead of what to do. As I noted in an earlier post (titled "We're On The Verge of Something..."), young kids have no fears. They're willing to try anything. As they grow up and are told no, they become fearful of the unknown. The ones who end up making a monumental impact in the world are those who throw fear aside and follow their active minds.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Did You See the Sunset?

This afternoon on my way home from work I was in the middle of my standard routine: put the iPod in, turn it up loud enough so that people around me don't distract me, and turn on my kindle. For those 22-minutes between Rosslyn and Vienna, I am in my own little world. While in that world, I was reading "The Business of Happiness" by Ted Leonsis and read this:
I once made the mistake of trying to drive from my office at AOL to a Washington Capitals game via the George Washington Parkway just as the evening rush hour way getting under way. Even on its worst day, the George Washington Parkway is among the most beutiful urban commuter highways in America, running through a national park parallel to the Potomac River directly across from Georgetown. And maybe this was its worst day, because traffic simply would not move. In both directions, cars were parked bumper-to-bumper.

As we eased slowly down the ramp onto the Parkway, in front of me, remarkably, was the most beautiful cascading sunset I'd seen in years and years. Orange and pink and red, the sky was completely lit up. I called Lynn at home and said, "I'm on the way to the game. By chance, are you near a window?"

Lynn said she was.

"You should go look at the sunset. It's spectacular. It reminds me of the time we were in Hawaii together."

Lynn knew exactly what I was talking about: a walk on the beach one evening as the sun melted into the Pacific in a really dramatic fashion. We'd been really happy together on what I recalled was a pretty glorious day, and the capper was a sunset that lingered in memory, an experience that created happiness far deeper than any new possession or simple accomplishment might have done.

Just now the traffic moved a little bit, and I looked at the guy in the car next to me, and he was screaming at someone on the phone while simultaneously blaring his horn. What he thought he was accomplishing by blaring his horn, I couldn't really tell; traffic was backed up for the next quarter mile at least.

But it was weird. We were in the same physical space, but we may as well have been in different solar systems. I could see the sun as it set, and apparently he couldn't.

I was so grateful to see this beautiful sky, and to be on the phone with my wife with both of us transported back to this wonderful moment in our lives. And one car away from me is a guy who's screaming on the phone and beeping his horn.

At that moment, I stopped. I paused the music on my iPod, wrapped up the headphones, and placed them in my shirt pocket. I looked around for a second or two. All I heard was the ambient noise of the metro train, the ringtone from a man's phone, and a lady chewing her gum a little too ferociously. But in that moment I felt peace. I removed myself from the little internalized world I had created for myself 5 days a week and was listening to the world around me.

I am not a horn honker. In fact, I never have really understood honking unless you're about to crash. However, when I took a split-second introspective look at my current situation, I really was the horn honker. I had internalized my situation. Like the man in the car, I didn't want anything to get between me and my destination. For him, it was getting through traffic. For me, it was reading my book in peace. In the process, both of us were probably missing the majestic subtleties of life.

Right there, I made a decision. I will no longer be an iPodder. Yes, I know that's not a word. I just created it. What exactly is an iPodder? They're those people who sit at their office desks listening to music and tuning out those around them. They're those people who crank it up on the metro. They're those people who listen to it while walking home. I am all three of those things. But no longer. I want to be in the same position Ted Leonsis was in.

I want to externalize my life and see those subtleties that life presents yet many of us miss. This won't happen simply by turning off my iPod. But it can happen if I take that first step to stop, listen, and ponder all of those moments in my life that breeze past me while I'm stuck in the rush hour of life.

Balls Rolling Uphill...Or Are They?

A mathetmatical engineer from Meiji University in Japan created this illusion where it appears as if balls are rolling uphill. Watch the video to see the secret!

New Birth in the Sky

Isn't our universe incredible? The clusters of red in this photo are showing new stars that are being born.

I ran across this today on the National Geogrphic website. You can see other pictures in their "Space Pictures This Week".

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hello, Great Salt Lake!

Well, for those who don't know yet - I received my mission call yesterday! I will be serving for two years starting July 6th, 2011 in the Salt Lake City South mission in the English language. I just wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on my thoughts and feelings after receiving the call.

First off...whoa! Nothing makes the idea of serving a mission more real than receiving the physical call letter. For the last few months I've been preparing, saving money, and thinking about where I might go. I can keep doing the first two, but there's no need to wonder about where I'm going...because SLC it is! I still have roughly three and a half months until I report to the MTC but knowing where I'm going solidifies things quite a bit!

Salt Lake City. When I had talked to friends and joked about "ironic" places I could go, I got many responses. Salt Lake City, oddly enough, was not one of them! Really, though, what location is more "ironic" than Salt Lake City! I had a friend open the call and read it. She snuck a peek at the location and the look on her face when she saw it told me, "This is going to be good!"

My thoughts? This is going to be pretty awesome! Why, might you ask? Well, aside from the fact that I'm confident the First Presidency placed me in a mission that will be a perfect fit for me, there are reasons. A mission in Salt Lake provides a unique experience. No, it won't be anything out of "The Other Side of Heaven", but still unique. Being a convert and living in Virginia my whole life, I'm now going to be in the middle of "LDS culture". Who knows, during my mission I could realisitically attend live General Conference sessions, meet General Authorities, and visit more than one temple. From what I hear, there is never a shortage of people to teach while serving a Utah mission. (I've also heard I'll be taken very good care of by the members - lots of free meals. Nope, not complaining here!) Oh, not to mention that I'll be serving the Lord for two years!

The bottom line? I'm excited! I'm excited to go on my mission, excited to be serving in Salt Lake City, and excited for the amazing experience I know it will be. I've really appreciated my friends who have given me advice and told me personal stories from their missions. Can I make one request? Please refrain from telling me any more of these stories until mid-June - because if I get too much more excited about this mission, I might not make it to July 6th!

Friday, March 25, 2011

How Do You Like Your Tap Water?

Aquafinito - Watch the Documentary Film for Free Watch Free Documentaries Online SnagFilms

Interesting little 9 minute film on tap water vs. bottle water. Things that stood out to me:
  • We spend more per year ($15 billion) on bottled water than we do on either iPods or movie tickets
  • People can't typically taste a difference between tap and bottled water. (This is true in most urban/developed areas, but from experience, may not be exactly true in rural areas)

In the United States, we have one of the best (if not the best) tap water distribution systems in terms of availability and cleanliness. Yet there is a "fear" of tap water which can be seen in the sales of various filters. This is unfortunate. Humans had to fight past unclean water for centuries. Now that we have it, some of us don't even recognize it?

I do disagree with the premise that corporations are restricting access to water to those "who can afford it", however. Sure, water is something everybody needs, but corporations are selling the convenience of the bottle over tap water. Almost everything sold in our society, in some form, is sold off of the basis of convenience. It's why we're no longer an agrarian society. Not to mention those corporations pay taxes to the government who provides the tap water. Sorry, but you lost me there.

While I'm not an environmental fanatic, this one just makes sense. Why do we continue to buy bottled water as if it were our only option? Not only is it environmentally friendly, but it can save us a heck of a lot of money! Go buy a bottle, refill it, and be merry!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Change in Perspective - Too Soon?

Anybody who knows me knows that I am cinematically illiterate. (I’m not sure if I just created a word, but it sounds reasonable) I have never been the person to sit down and watch movies, and as a result, I don’t have a thorough knowledge of movie history. However, last night I found some time to watch the children’s comedy “Megamind” with some friends. I really did enjoy the movie.

For those who haven’t seen it, the central character is Megamind, who is a villain who has battled his entire life with a childhood companion, Metroman. Megamind continuously loses to Metroman and he begins to believe that he is meant to be the villain. Without giving away the plot, Megamind comes to have control over Metro City. The rest of the movie focuses on Megamind’s internal struggles between the villain that he believes he is and the good that is inside of him.

It’s fascinating when movies take the perspective of what would typically be the antagonist of a standard plot. Many works have done this and been wildly successful commercially as well as giving an insightful commentary on our society. Some examples are the musical “Wicked”, “Phantom of the Opera”, and the TV series “The Sopranos”. I enjoy these divergent perspectives and believe they serve a valuable purpose in artistic productions. I do, on the other hand, wonder about the wisdom of presenting this in the same manner in children’s movies.

My favorite movie growing up was “The Lion King”. The focus of that movie was Simba fighting his uncle Scar. It’s a classic story of good vs. evil. To be sure, there are reasons and rationales for why Scar ended up in his current situation, but the focus of the movie is on a good, honest, and decent Simba overcoming personal challenges and evil at the same time.

In Megamind, Megamind is presented sympathetically and you can’t help but root for the little, evil underdog. The same situation arises in the other productions that have the villain playing the lead role. You can almost find yourself saying, “If only X would have happened differently, Megamind would be a good guy!” This is typically true, which is why I enjoy seeing art presented in this manner. However, that needs to be qualified. There are two critical points here: processes and events.

The process involve the years, situations, and unfortunate circumstances that led to Megamind’s decision to become evil. The event is Megamind deciding to destroy Metro City. We should be aware that life is complex. Many factors contribute to the success or failure of anything in life. We should not, however, confuse the process with the event. Once a person has chosen something dangerous to the welfare of society, good and decent people everywhere must unite to stop it. A person can change, turn a new leaf, and if they do so, I applaud them! Actions still have consequences, even if they have been turned away from, and we must always remember this. Children especially need to know this, because many decisions they make as youth will have ramifications for them for the rest of their lives.

Knowledge has always been developed much like a pyramid, one level at a time. First, we need the knowledge of good and evil. We need to have a surety of what we know to be right and what we know to be wrong. Then, and only then, can we interpret motives, processes, and try to correct them. (Yes, I know there are other things to be taught as well…just simplifying to stay concise) If we do this backwards, we start creating a morally relativistic society that sympathizes with terrorists, criminals, and drug dealers because “we (society) failed them”. Many people may have failed the “villains” of our society today, but they are the only ones who chose to pursue that path and as a result are the only ones who can be blamed for their decisions. And as soon as they chose that path, they also chose the consequences. First, children need to know that good decisions have good consequences and bad decisions have bad consequences. After they’ve been thoroughly taught in this basis of personal living can we move outwards to defining motives of others.

I believe that as a society we need to look at the reasons why certain events take place. While we do this, we must remember more central features of our human condition: 1) We all control our own choices, 2) While there are many grey areas in the world, there are still clear rights and wrongs, and 3) We must adjudicate our society based on the first two points. My hesitation in presenting movies and other artistic productions to children in the manner of Megamind is that we’re putting the chicken before the egg.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

We're On The Verge of Something...

"Go into a kindergarten class and ask the kids how many of them can sing. EVERY hand will go up. Fast-forward 13 years and ask the same class of seniors the same question. Only a few hands will go up. What changed? The kindergarten kids believed they could sing because no one had told them otherwise."

This is a short anecdote from a book I've started reading. It's a fascinating illustration of how past experiences, whether good or bad, shape our future. How many of these kids, and we could put ourselves in their places, could have been singers had they not been told otherwise? How many of them would have continued in trying to sing until a pleasant sound came out? They might not all become American Idols, but there would be more many more singers in the world.

It seems we all have been programmed in a similar manner. We've tried, failed, been given advice on where to go next, and given up on what we started. We've been told the best ways to live our lives and many times those don't lead us on the roads that intersect with our dreams.

There is a common thread in the stories of those who have made a monumental impact to society. Most, if not all, have had pathways marked with failure after failure. The difference between most of us and them? While most people accept the reality that we're not "singers" after a failure, these individuals refuse to accept that it's not possible. They keep on working, learning, and expanding their abilities until they reach their goal.

Life is short and life has purpose. It's much too short to spend it wondering about what we could have done if we hadn't given up on the possibility.

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." - T.S. Eliot

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Insanity in Wisconsin - Understanding the Protests

The protests taking place in Wisconsin are depressing. They're depressing because I've come to realize that a large plurality, maybe even a majority in some places, don't understand what their rights are. Let's look at a few quotes that were widely publicized yesterday after Wisconsin Republicans passed the non-financial portion of the Union bill:

"The gig is now up. The fraud on the people of Wisconsin is now very clear. They are now going to pass a bill to take away people's rights."

Sen. Mark Miller, the Democratic Senate leader, said Republicans "conspired to take government away from the people."

"In 30 minutes, 18 state senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin," Miller said in a statement condemning the vote. "Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten."

First, what rights are being taken away? None. Civil rights? Really? Collective bargaining, in this case, was enacted by the passing of a state law in 1959 and not as a fundamental freedom. Freedom of speech and freedom of association are rights, but collective bargaining by public employees is no such right.

But that doesn't kill their argument, because some things make logical sense even if they're not rights. Let's look at the meat of the deal. It aims to have government workers to make a 5.8% contribution to their pensions and a 12.6% contribution to their health-insurance premium instead of the 0% they currently pay. That's a fairly generous deal, considering I don't have the option of a pension at all and the average percentage of insurance premium paid by private workers is 16% for single coverage and 28% for family coverage.

Did Republicans conspire to take the government away from the people? I see no way that they did. In fact, Gov. Scott Walker, when running for Governor, ran on a platform of curtailing union rights for public employees as a way to save money. Scott Walker won election. Also, Republicans swept both houses of their state assembly. Elections have consequences. It's why we have a health care law that many Republicans despise, and it's why this law will soon pass in Wisconsin.

In reality, the Democrats conspired to take the government away from the people by not allowing a majority that had the votes to pass the bill to do it in an orderly manner. The Democrats, by fleeing the state, forced the Republicans' hand into passing the bill with only 19 senators present.

These facts are reason enough to see through the protesters' arguments. The truth is that we've reached a point where we are protesting not for civil rights or moral issues, but for simple financial gain. That's what depressing. Are we really that selfish and narcissistic that we believe that we have a "right" to a certain salary, level of benefits, and retirement plan?

We have a right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, as well as a number of other rights. We have the right to decline a job offer because it doesn't meet our requirements or to leave after many years on the job in order to take a risk and become more successful. I'm glad I have the freedom to choose my own path in life - and I hope I choose one that makes me both happy and successful. But I don't expect my success to be legislated for me, nor should public employees expect that in Wisconsin.