Category: "Time"

Messing with the Time

March 6th, 2015

One great example of man's manipulative ways is standardized time. Timekeeping -- the incremental measurement of the position of the sun -- was created to support bureaucratic, religious, and social activities nearly 6,000 years ago. It partitioned day from night, morning from afternoon, and a year's shortest day from its longest.

Since America's pioneer beginnings, we have been messing with the time. Although the sun does not peak at the same moment across the continent, time was standardized in 1883 so that railroad companies could organize their schedules. Later, since the majority of us are awake longer into the evenings than we are earlier in the mornings, Benjamin Franklin determined that moving the time to accommodate our summer schedules would result in healthier, more productive lives. In 1973, when oil was scarce, Congress decided to extend this Daylight Saving Timeframe from six to eight months, reportedly saving 300,000 barrels of oil each year. And in 2007, it was moved again, with the intention of saving even more.

Our waking hour, eating hours, meeting schedules, birth records, and death records have all become dictated by man's clock, distancing our connection to the fact that time is what it is because the earth and the sun ARE. May we never forget that, like all technology, our inventions were created for societal reasons. They can measure, mimic, and adapt to natural law, but they cannot -- and shall not -- try to change it.

Want to know a few more facts about time, Daylight Saving Time in particular? Check out my most recent post at Today's Walk Outside.

I'm still here.

January 17th, 2014

I haven't forgotten about you. Although I've been silent for months, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. I have, however, met up with a challenge that is consuming all of my time: cleaning up a new, old home.

The whole thing started with a sign on a lawn.

Now, with the move complete, the walls are changing colors as the sawdust is swept away...

...while wearing dust masks, of course.

Meanwhile, in the midst of moving, the holidays came and went and the new year began. There's a sense of a fresh start in the air for everyone I meet, whether or not they've recently made a big change. It's the way of winter: dormancy for renewal. Even if we are not spreading our leaves and bursting with color, we are improving, inside and out.

How do you like our living room decor?

It may feel as if we are neglecting other things in the process, but there is something very rewarding about focusing on a single goal. For instance, getting an entire house in order requires the completion of many, many small tasks. Today I will be moving boxes from one side of my office room to the other, making way for my husband to sand a cedar closet tomorrow. Sunday, we will be emptying our temporary storage locker. It's been this way since early December, tackling one goal at a time until our home is comfortable, the priority of which remains steadfastly at the top of the list.

Holiday decorations? Not this year. Blog posts? Pushed aside for a while. Internet connection? Only when I really need it. A vacation with friends? I'm having enough fun setting up house.

I'm relearning from this adventure the value of focus, prioritization, accomplishment, and old-fashioned hard work. But the key in all of this is that the goal -- uncovering the charm of this house -- is unequivocally something that I want. That's the part that makes it easy, worthwhile, and permissible. What will be the consequences of saying no to everything else? Only time will tell.

I'm also learning the value of dramatic change. The mundane may be comfortable, but it sure is boring.

Still, I haven't forgotten the value of you, my reader, my friend. As I spend hours scrubbing a single wall, my thoughts linger toward planning the tasks necessary to continue writing for you. I expect to reemerge, charm uncovered, something old made new again. Until then, enjoy this period of dormancy and take advantage of it while you can.

Did you do that yourself?

November 13th, 2013

The post is part of the latest SOS Signal, my bi-monthly newsletter which speaks to the career professional.

The time is at hand to set goals for 2014. For each task we must decide if we want to hire someone or if it's something we'll handle ourselves. There are many reasons why a person takes on a job that would otherwise be done by an expert. For one thing, self-reliance is getting easier. The availability of resources and tools for Do it Yourself projects (DIY) have become so commonplace, I wonder if it won't be long before there are DIY lawsuits or DIY facelifts.

Like a hungry person learning to garden, there's value in having DIY skills. But there are also valid reasons to get help. Some professional business services seem costly upfront, until you consider the impacts beyond the total on the invoice. DIY as a way to cut expenses can backfire, resulting in stained credibility, increased stress, and lost revenue.

So how do you decide? You take into consideration multiple angles.

The Case for DIY

People often ask me about my Website. It's a DIY. Here are the main reasons why I originally decided to build my own:

1.) I had more time than money.

2.) I had a good enough skill set to get it done.

3.) I wanted the ability to customize and to be the person responsible and in control.

4.) The knowledge gained helped my career/was a topic that interested me.

5.) I was confident the final product would serve its primary purpose.

After it was done, I found future applications for what I had learned. I customized this Blog. I communicated more easily with professionals in the Web design field. And recently, I offered my knowledge to a fellow sole proprietor, Shannon Miller of Shannon Miller Photography, with whom I had teamed up on an unrelated project. As our business relationship progressed, it became apparent that her success would impact mine. We began to trade services. She took my headshot and other needed photos, and I helped her get an updated Website.

The value of learning a new skill almost always has long-term benefits, ones that may not reveal themselves until farther on down the road.

The Case Against DIY

Meanwhile, let's look at another, less technical example. At home, I'd like to add a shelter for protecting my car from the weather. Four to six posts and roof would suffice. I don't want one of those metal, industrial-looking structures that have become popular around here, but I also don't want to pay more for a carport than I did the car. I found kits online that would give me the instructions (and possibly the materials) to build one myself. Admittedly it would be rewarding to say, "I built that," and I'd prefer to have control over the outcome.

BUT, I do not have decent carpentry or power-tool skills. And the structure's purpose is to protect my vehicle, not collapse on top of it.

So, in this case, just because I COULD build it myself, doesn't mean I SHOULD.

The Gray Area in Between

Back to my Website; I have what I paid for. Although it successfully casts my name and information out into Cyberspace, it doesn't have quality bait on its hook. Ideally, to get more from it, I should hire an expert.

Foremost in my decision on how to go forward is the answer to the perpetual question, "Does it serve its purpose?" Like a carport in shambles, if the site turns off visitors or never succeeds in catching new business, then it doesn't matter who built it, it's not worth the lumber or labor consumed. Additionally, when my book hits the New York Times bestseller list, and I have to travel the world to give readings and book signings, I won't have the time to keep my site functioning, and thus, I will need to pay someone who can.

Because the process is rarely easy.

Plus, few DIY projects turn out to run as smoothly as intended. The history of how my site came into existence is so long and complicated, I could have written 18 best sellers in the amount of time I've invested in it. My first site was created more than a decade ago using an online template service called SiteStudio. Like with any templated program, I took a risk that mine would look like someone else's, which I tried to reduce by pushing the software to its customization brink. Although clumsy and time consuming, the process did at least give me an online business card as well as a basic understanding of how to talk in computer code.

I revamped the site three times over the years, adding new services and making use of new HTML knowledge. Then, out of nowhere one day, my site's host lost the connection to the SiteStudio files. There was no way to restore them from a backup. All I got was, "Sorry, you'll have to rebuild it." They were fired.

While the crickets were chirping at my URL, I found a new hosting service. They also offered SiteStudio, which I immediately declined. I tried instead an inexpensive, off-the-shelf Mac software program that ran on my desktop. I managed to create something, but my throat still hurts from screaming at the computer. After about a year of trying to maintain files that were impossible to work with, I made the investment in the well known, tried-and-true, Website creation software called Dreamweaver.

I passed over the templates and dug in to learn the fundamentals, granting me the knowledge of exactly how my site was structured, etc. I took advantage of DIY books on HTML and CSS, read a lot about best practices, and invested hours...days...weeks into building a site that I can update quickly and if anything happens to the server, I can reload in minutes.

Beyond the software, hosting, and domain registration fees, the site was built for free. Sounds great, right? Not really. Here's why:

1.) If I had spent that time making money, my profit would have far exceeded the expense of hiring a professional.

2.) My skill set lacks knowledge. I do not speak fluent HTML, a language that is still evolving. I do not have a grasp of the code that mobile devices need to properly display a given Website. I cannot add interactivity. My site is not search engine optimized. And it lacks the graphic punch needed to keep a reader's attention.

3.) Although I may be in charge, I only get what I envision. There are no brainstorming sessions. I'm not able to tap into advice from talented peers and other individuals. All my shortcomings follow me to my online presence. This is the drawback of total control.

4.) While I'm interested in the the trade, I'm not interested in becoming a Webmaster. Having a little bit of knowledge about something so extensive can be a hindrance if you fail to acknowledge all that you do not know. Additionally, software upgrades are becoming increasingly more expensive in the design world, and for this job, you can't use your grandfather's tools.

5.) The primary purpose has changed. Where before my site was designed as a for-more-information followup to a face-to-face meeting or word-of-mouth referral, my career has evolved into one in which strangers must be able to stumble upon it. I must begin to catch some unknown fish floating in the online stream.

The Final Evaluation

There is nothing wrong with DIY. If there were, stores such as Lowes or Home Depot wouldn't be so darn successful. But we must all be careful not to let the DIY craze rob us of the potential that exists in a job professionally done or cripple us with the drawbacks of having one done wrong. There is a reason why someone is called an expert, and hiring the right one almost always pays for itself in time saved, profit gained, and effectiveness achieved.

For my plan in 2014, I expect to keep my DIY Website. But if anyone asks for advice on how they should proceed with theirs, I'll tell them, "It depends." Because decisions such as this really do depend. There are nuances to every task and angles to every project, ones that can only be evaluated by the decision maker. No matter what, the first step starts with setting the goal.

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Recognizing Millennials

August 23rd, 2013

I read an opinion piece earlier this month, and the words haven't left my mind since. It appeared in Lehigh Valley Business, and being a business journal article, it offered business-management advice. The writer, a consultant for manufacturing companies, suggested ways to recognize and reward today's young employees. The piece began with results from a recent study wherein the Millennial generation was evaluated. Four paragraphs of bad news followed. In summary, a general lack of professionalism, work ethic, teamwork, buy in, and focus was being found in the majority of newly hired college graduates.

Sharp-edged words described the poor attitudes that will soon make up more than 50 percent of the American workforce. Then, the author laid out a strategy for employers, urging them to adjust their recognition programs to meet changing expectations. ("Managing Millennials: It's all about immediate recognition.")

He wrote of the need to cater to them. Key points included ways to appease a desire for instant gratification, pluck egotistical strings, and tap into a sense of entitlement. He recommended giving instant, "broadcastable" applause to fit the impulse to brag on social networks. He suggested customized rewards that match each person's particular taste. For this type of employee-recognition program--one undoubtedly more complicated than the last--an investment in software could help to provide the structure needed to achieve such a specialized strategy.

It wrapped up stating how this advanced outlook could motivate Millennials, keep turnover to a minimum, and increase productivity, because it aligned with the "needs, preferences, and values of today's new professionals." On the surface, that sounded great. Underneath was a severely problematic foundation.

If you're a business manager, you don't have time to instill qualities that should have been taught at home a decade ago. And it's quite sad that colleges are not properly grooming kids for the workforce. I remember after Enron collapsed from executive selfishness--after suicides were committed and fortunes were lost--it was suggested that colleges require students to undergo ethics training so they understood the risks of putting personal gain before the organization's. Did that not happen? Is that not still relevant?

Meanwhile, if you're a blogger who writes about simplicity, long-term thinking, community mindedness, and slowing down, you can't see the benefit in encouraging such "values" as selfishness, instant gratification, and a lack of discipline.

Why should the older generation--undoubtedly wiser by virtue of having experienced more of life's lessons--invest in building a culture that is opposite of what those lessons taught? How will our communities strengthen if we support the polarization of the individual? What is the benefit of catering to traits that, in my opinion, should be shunned?

If all goes well, I still have half my life to live. In the first act, I watched awareness for our planet's health build, acceptance for diversity increase, and life's most important qualities (peace, community, connectedness) grow in popularity. I get excited when I hear young people express their views on recycling, community gardens, sustainable living, and social change.

Still, a person's work has a profound impact on their lives in general, and none of those positive views will shine through if we allow personal pursuits to overshadow teamwork or if ego becomes more important than constructive criticism. We cannot untie work ethic from "social goals, environmental practices, cultures, and public missions," goals the article said are important to this new breed. This concerns me because, as I age and eventually exit the workforce, the second act of my life will depend on the path professionalism takes, whether I care to admit it or not.

At work or at home, if even the oldest and wisest among us have trouble slowing down, showing compassion for others, and appreciating every moment for all that it is worth, how are we to help the Millennials do the same? And what happens when we give up trying and just let the sins of speed and selfishness have their way?

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A Moment of Silence

May 24th, 2013

To hear piano music while listening, click here. The song will open in a new window. Song Title: Grandfather's Clock; Composer: Henry C. Work; Pianist: Ruth Heil

“We will never forget,” the people said. It’s a common phrase, declared with intention, its meaning heartfelt and deep. After each tragedy, we see the images of those left behind, tears streaming down faces, hands grasping for something to hold on to, memories woven together to create a single, fragile thread that comes to serve as the only remaining connection to the loved one just lost.

"We will never forget." Memorials may stand to honor the deceased, but they also comfort the grieving. And for the case of the fallen veteran, they serve a third purpose: They remind us to be grateful. Acquaintances and strangers -- standing side-by-side -- can acknowledge the contribution made so that America-as-a-country can prevail.

“We will never forget.” Ah, but we do. Life has a funny way of filling our thoughts with other things. Death may bring time to a grinding halt, but time always gets moving again. With each moment, losses and gains are witnessed and felt. It’s a cycle we shall not feel guilty about; it’s just the way it is.

“We will never forget.” Time has softened our memories of a brutal civil war and all the wars that followed. Knowing this reality, holidays such as the one upon us were made. In 1971, Congress declared the last Monday in May an appropriate time to decorate a veteran’s grave with the plentiful flowers of spring. Three o’clock in the afternoon was set as the appropriate time to pause for a national moment of silence, taking a break from the parades and picnics and official launches of summer in order to just remember.

We don’t have to agree with wars or even know the details of the battles, but for the freedoms we enjoy, the least we can do is maintain that thread of remembrance and keep the American promise to never, ever forget.

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