A Rebalanced Life

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. – Confucius

If anyone’s still out there…

I’ve decided it was time for a reset. So I’ve moved my posting activity over to a new home – A Simple Ramble. Head on over, if you like what you see drop me a comment!

Be the change?

Evolve to some new plane of existence…

This is what our culture tells us has to happen before we can even think about starting to make the kind of fundamental system wide changes that are going to be necessary if we expect that culture to survive the next, let’s say 100 years. What’s always bugged me is this – Why?

Why do we have to wait for everybody to be on board? Why can’t we, imperfect beings that we are, start making changes right now? I initially set out to find a source quote for that catchy bumper sticker slogan, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Most Prius’ I see it on attribute it to Ghandi. Turns out there’s no source for this. The closest thing to this little slogan to be found in his actual writings is this:

If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him…We need not wait to see what others do.

Source (emphasis mine)

What I take from this version is simple – Be disruptive NOW. This way others will see your example and stop feeling like they can’t do anything. (Side rant: Disruptive as a word gets a bad rap due to having been co-opted. To me, it simply means NOT doing what everyone else expects you to do.) We can only change what we don’t like with the power of many, and it only takes ONE person to show the rest the way. This has been proven many times over the years, from cults to political movements to Occupy.

I recently read about several studies that looked at how people handle situations that make them uncomfortable to react. For example, researchers staged a situation where someone feigned having a heart attack on a public sidewalk during the lunch rush. Out of the dozens of witnesses, nobody would do ANYTHING until one person made a move. Once that first responder acted, several others jumped into action offering additional aid. This study has been repeated in several variations, in several countries over the years and the results are nearly identical. It only takes one person to kick start a chain reaction.

How does this translate to being disruptive? It means find your cause, the one you’re passionate about, and get out there and do something about it. If you believe strongly that Keystone is a BAD idea, find a rally, paint yourself a sign, and get out there. If you believe public transit can work for more people than currently use it, prove it by commuting on it. If you believe less driving is the best way forward, sell your car. If you believe that your city needs better bike infrastructure, get yourself out there on a bike and prove it. Don’t wait for the busses to get better, or for more bike lanes to be painted. Make the first move.

Use your skills and abilities to their fullest. If you’re a software developer, make an app that helps people find ridesharing options in your city (I’m using RideScout in the DC area, it’s fantastic). If you’re an artist, find a business who supports your cause and see if they’ll let you paint a mural and express yourself. If you’re a facilitator (like me) find a way to make your mark. I’m working on an idea for a coworking space in my neighborhood. These spaces allow people who are self employed, or who telework, to work in a supportive, collaborative environment. It also gives small businesses with maybe one or two employees a way to have a mailing address that’s not one of their homes, shared conference spaces, and other amenities that usually come with being much larger. This is my way of fostering innovation and encouraging more people to do what they do, just better.

The end point of this wander? DO SOMETHING. Don’t wait for someone else, they won’t move until you kick start that chain reaction.

In case you’re wondering, this post was inspired by my recent decision to defer my enrollment in a Sustainable MBA program in order to see what I could learn in other ways, and how I could make a difference without going into debt. Also, that comment about being a facilitator reminded me that I have more to say on that, I love when a good rant leads to a whole ‘nother tangent…

Personal update, version unknown

See, even in the space of a couple weeks, a lot can change. I’ve decided to defer grad school for now. Just too many things vying for what attention I have, and I’ve never been a big fan of multitasking. So now we’re down to moving the first week of April, looking for a car, and the work stuff. Which brings me to the next update: the manager has now taken a different job completely and is gone as of April 1. No foolin’.

What this means for me is even more experience doing the business side of the STUFF associated with running my little team, and it means one less body on that little team getting said STUFF done. All that means even more brain power going into the work day, leaving less for all the other stuff swirling around up there. I’m getting better at segmenting, that is turning off the work stuff when I leave the office and letting more brain cells go to work on that other stuff…but like most things it’s a process. For example I’m sitting here having just written 2 letters of recommendation for a former intern, and a peer review for a current coworker. On Sunday. Because I just don’t get enough un-disturbed time in the workroom to string together coherent sentences I end up loosing weekend time to this stuff.

My back decided to flare up a week or so ago, just to keep things interesting. Not much bike commuting happening between that and the snow that doesn’t seem to know what SPRING means…I can’t argue with the cause of the flare ups (seems to be related to my body trying to realign itself to the weight I’ve lost), however I can argue with the SUCK that this entails.

Chewing on the idea of being skeptically alert and how it differs from simply staying alert and present. The idea came from a book by Alain De Botton called The News, A User’s Manual. He uses it to describe how to approach reading or watching most news reports, watching for the BS lurking just below the surface of the fancy fonts, flashy graphics and sensationalist headlines. I don’t think I’m quite as skeptical as De Botton, the idea intrigues me nonetheless and I do feel that a healthy dose of skepticism most definitely has an appropriate time and place.

Let’s see, anything else?

Nah, let’s leave it there for today.

Where I’ve been that wasn’t here

I keep talking a good game about getting on a regular posting schedule, don’t I? Then I proceed to be absent for anywhere from a week to…what’s it been this round, like 3 months?!?! I’m not going to make excuses, and I’m not going to make promises either. That said, I am returning to posting, and I wanted to start with a glimpse into what’s been keeping me away. First of all, I’m moving into my own place on April 1, so there’s been much apartment hunting, budget figuring and Craigslist shopping happening. Second, I’m starting grad school at the end of this month, so there’s also been much entry essay writing, reference contacting/cajoling, and more budget figuring. Third there’s been drama at work that leaves me thoroughly wiped by the time I get home and I just haven’t had the energy to open a notebook.

And lastly, there’s the simple fact that my mind works in rather roundabout ways most of the time. This makes it difficult to pull out a single thread to focus on long enough to get an essay written. So the last thing I want to share today is the note I entered into Evernote for yesterday, as just a sample of what I’m talking about. The only modification I’ve made from how I wrote this out is to add a link to the Whole 30 site for anyone who wants more information.

=> Reading about how the internet is effectively rewiring our brains, while sitting here typing on my computer and watching every 3rd person in the place staring at a glowing screen of one sort or another

=> No, the irony is not lost

=> Is it possible to continue using the computer/internet as a Tool, without letting it change the very way our brains work? I don’t like the word ‘rewire’ in this context, since it is in a very real way what’s happening.

=> The implications of neuroplasticity for everything from habit changing to how we actually view the everyday occurrences around us are truly fascinating. Is this the root of why it takes at least 30 days to change a habit or break a food addiction (for example)? What about the effects of retreats, spending extended periods of time away from screen time? As usual I’m coming up with all sorts of questions without answers. I’m thinking it’s time to start another round of N=1 experimentation. Starting with the Whole 30 I start today.

One thing I know about myself is that I need to restrict the number of habits I try to change at one time. Every time I try to combine, one or more end up slipping off the back end. So, Whole 30 for March, then I’ll see what to work on come April 1, aside from moving of course.

=> Speaking of moving, need to find a desk that will fit in the studio

=> Comparative Advantage
the idea that there will ALWAYS be someone who can do/produce something at a lower marginal & opportunity cost than someone else.

Common misconceptions

Being a bike riding introvert from Seattle, I’ve started noticing a handful of common misconceptions out here…

How’s that for an intro?

Anyway, I haven’t had enough time to devote to ferreting out the causes of each of these, what they have in common is that they have all been applied to me in the ~5 months since I switched coasts. The first is that since I shy away from large gatherings of people, I must not like people at all. Wrong. As I’ve talked about before, being an introvert means absolutely nothing in terms of my relationship with people in general. It has everything to do with how I handle being in large groups of people, say at a summer street fair or large concert (hint: not well). It has to do with what I do for fun and relaxation (go for a walk/hike, read, meditate). And it has to do with how I choose to structure my time, both in terms of a working environment and free time.

If given a choice of how to spend my weekend, let’s say there’s a street fair or an opportunity to play disc golf with a couple of other people – I’m going to pick the latter every time. I choose to cultivate a few choice relationships over meeting as many new people as possible. I pick who I call a friend carefully and cherish the small number currently in that circle.

Notice what I didn’t say is that I don’t like people and want nothing to do with any of them ever again. Yet that’s how a lot of people react when I use the word Introvert. If you know people that sound like how I’ve just described myself, and you find them declining invitations to go out after work or to a ballgame, instead of writing them off, try changing tactics and invite them over for drinks at your place with just a couple of other people. Or try a smaller, more intimate gathering like a lecture or book reading. The right environment can make all the difference.

The second misconception I’ve run into is that since I ride a bike, I’m either a racer or a hipster. This is easy to clear up – I don’t own spandex, my bikes are steel not carbon, and they have multiple gears, freewheels and brakes. Oh, and my pants fit. Don’t worry if you don’t know what some of those things mean, suffice it to say this is a misconception as well. If I had to classify what sort of bike rider I am, I guess I’m a utility cyclist (I’m planning a post where I cover why I don’t like that term that much either). I ride to work, I ride to run errands, basically I ride when others might drive. I prefer human powered, human speed transportation. I once read that the human brain processes information at the equivalent of 3 miles per hour. That means that the faster we go, the less we can process of our surroundings. My first choice for transportation is always to walk, which interestingly enough is on average approximately 3 miles per hour. A close second is riding, which I’ve averaged out to about 10 miles per hour for my commute and most errands, baring serious hills (which I’m finding to be much less of an issue here than in Seattle).

The last most common misconception is that since I’m from Seattle I must be a bed-wetting liberal who wants to see my gay-married friends have state funded healthcare while adopting as many minority babies as they can as well as sponsoring baby seals. I have to say this one actually isn’t that far off.

For the most part, my political leanings are left of center to a greater or lesser extent. In some ways, I’m bordering on libertarian, in others I’m quite centrist. and for the most part, I just don’t care. Don’t mistake that for apathy. I simply feel that the two party system is so outdated and so corrupt (by special interest groups and corporations) that it fails to represent the interest of pretty much anyone other than the politicians.

I’m not sure whether I cleared anything up or not…honestly don’t care either way. I like writing and this DID help me filter out my feelings on a couple of things, so there you go. Progress. Comments are open if you want to share any thoughts, just keep it civil. Thanks.

The return of “Stuff I Like” – vol. 1

At some point in the distant past, I did a series of posts called Stuff I Like. This may or may not have been on a now defunct version of this blog, so I’m just going to restart it with issue 1 today – my 2 weeks new Alite Shifter pack.


Not a bad looking pack, huh? In my search for single items that can replace multiple others, I think I may have hit on a winner in the Shifter. This pack is more than just a pretty face, it’s a really comfortable pack for multi-modal commuting. I’ve used it walking (several miles broken up with standing metro rides), metro commuting, and riding various bikes – and even with my variety of extant back issues, I haven’t had any problems. Right now I’m sitting at a coffee shop, having ridden my Brompton several miles to get here, with my 13″ Macbook loaded up and only suffered a minor sweaty back and no pain at all. Before I forget, the Shifter is ~30 liters, though I find it rides like a smaller pack.

The Shifter is intended for exactly the sort of use I’m putting it to, urban commuting, walking, riding, or whatever your typical day consists of. I’ve used it for forays into DC on the weekend, just carrying a water bottle and jacket – and I’ve used it  fully loaded for a Sunday out and about.

Construction seems top notch, only time will tell on that one. Alite is a relative newcomer to the world of carry, the founder and lead designer has a decade of experience behind him so I have high hopes. The body of the pack is a waxed nylon that should age nicely like a waxed cotton, just more water resistant. The only thing I can see becoming an issue over time is me getting fed up with it being a top loader. The laptop pocket has a side access which is great, there’s just the one entry into the main cargo compartment though, which when I use a pack for travel for example, can be a pain.

Some more pictures for the visual learners:

Nice reflective bits and bobs, note the strap for attaching a rear blinky light at the bottom left

Nice reflective bits and bobs, note the strap for attaching a rear blinky light at the bottom left

Even has reflective bits from the front, these are at the top/front of the shoulder straps

Even has reflective bits from the front, these are at the top/front of the shoulder straps

Nicely padded back, no frame sheet or anything to stiffen the pack. I prefer this personally as it lets the pack form to my back.

Nicely padded back, no frame sheet or anything to stiffen the pack. I prefer this personally as it lets the pack form to my back.

Interior is a vibrant yellow. I love this, especially with the top loader design as it's WAY easier to find what you're looking for.

Interior is a vibrant yellow. I love this, especially with the top loader design as it’s WAY easier to find what you’re looking for.

Organizer panel in one of the front pockets. See thoughts below...

Organizer panel in one of the front pockets. See thoughts below…

OK, that organizer panel…huh.

At first glance it looks great. A pocket in back with a key clip, big enough for a small notebook, iphone, and other fiddly bits that generally get lost. In front are individual pockets for a couple of pens (for the pen geeks, it’s a Uni-Ball Signo Micro and a Kaweco Sport fountain pen at the moment), a pocket knive or multitool, and utensils? (Update, I checked the Alite site and it turns out they make utensil sets that would fit nicely here)

The coolness is that the panel is removable. And you can reattach it turned sideways to make the openings of all the pockets line up with the side opening of the pocket it’s mounted in. AND you can take it out and re-mount it in the front of the main compartment if you rather. Or leave it un-attached and take it out at the office to keep your desk organized, then just drop it back in for the ride home. I’m going to experiment with these options this coming week and see what works best for me, right now I’m thinking I’m going to like the detached method the best…

And that wraps up the return of Stuff I Like, hope someone finds it useful, if you do drop me a comment and let me know. And if you have a Shifter and want to discuss anything about it…great, I look forward to conversations, remember?

I Just Am

I am not what I think I am.

I just am.

-Jaimal Yogis

I’m fairly sure this has been said by others, this is the version I just happen to have read, and the one that sparked this post, so I’m going with it.

Do I think I’m a Senior Technical Analyst, or is that the title put on the position I fill in exchange for a bi-weekly paycheck? I’m inclined to the latter.

Rima Staines said something in an excellent post the other day about being a “Luddite with a dilemma.” That she’s just one step away from moving to a cottage deep in the woods with a well-trodden path her only connection to her “social network,” and that what mostly keeps her from this goal is the fact that we exist in a time and place where we have to pay money for the things that sustain us – and therefore we have to do something with some of our time in exchange for some money.

I am of course paraphrasing wildly, and if Rima ever finds her way here I apologize in advance if I took your thoughts out of context. I see her basic point as being one that I struggle with every morning on my way to work. I don’t particularly WANT to spend my time there (in fact, I just noticed how telling the phrase spend time is), it’s just that if I want to eat I need money so some of my time has to be traded for a paycheck…and I happen to be able to do IT and logistics.

Does that automatically turn me into a Senior Technical Analyst? Not if I don’t let it. How does that work, you ask – good question. For starters I try very hard not to take work home with me, and I mean that in both the physical sense of leaving my laptop at my workstation and in the more “keeping my sanity” way of not dwelling on what happened that day or focusing on what’s likely to happen the next day. Once I head out the door…I’m out the door. I become Jesse again, just Jesse…no title, no credentials, no certifications.

I just am.

I struggle with using technology and social media (how I feel about that title is a topic for a whole series of posts that currently only exists in my head) in a way quite similar to Rima. I don’t particularly like Twitter, however I’ve met some really great people there that I’ve gone on to meet in person, have coffee with, ride bikes with, etc. I closed my Facebook account years ago after an uncomfortable couple of messages from someone out of my distant past. I’m on LinkedIn…actually that’s how I found this job, so really no complaints there. I only use it for professional purposes and to keep my online resume up to date, checking in every few weeks or months if that.

I’d prefer to meet someone for tea to having a Direct Message conversation over Twitter. Rather chat with a stranger at the Metro stop than exchange clipped half thoughts via text messages. Bottom line, despite classifying myself squarely as an Introvert, I would much rather interact with real people, face to face, in person, making eye contact – than pretty much any form of digital ‘contact.’ However at the same time I know that in order to eat and pay rent, I’m going to have to IM and email people all day, unless I break protocol (as I am wont to do) – and call them.

To bring this back around, NO – I don’t think I’m a Senior Technical Analyst. I AM Jesse, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.

Just be Where…When?

I’ve been reading a lot about Zen and other schools of Buddhism recently. It’s reinforced my meditation practice, reminded me to keep my attention on what’s important and not get sidetracked by fluff and distractions. It’s also reminded me to pay attention to the fluff and distractions because you never know when something on the periphery will become what’s important.

And that’s just one of the contradictions raised this week.

The bigger one is this (this is a first attempt at trying to get this coherent): How can you maintain goals for the future, if you’re supposed to focus solely on the present? What I’m doing in the present is at least partially to serve some future goal, right? Even if I haven’t articulated that goal yet?

Or am I missing something?

I’m going to take this one goal at a time, starting with getting my personal debt paid off. I go to work every day and stare at two glowing screens doing research, pricing fleets of laptops, deciding which model monitor will serve the developers needs and which one will be best for the HR folks, and take frequent breaks to do some break/fix and other diagnostic work. For the most part my days go by without incident. Occasionally it hits the fan and me and my team catch some in the eye. Then we do it again the next day. This results in a deposit being made to my checking account on the 15th and last day of every month, this is the monetary compensation that my time is ‘worth’ to my employer. I in turn use this money to pay my bills, rent, and make a repayment deposit to the family member who extended me this loan.

OK, so my present is full of IT asset management fun serving the future goal of paying off debt. Would I be able to maintain my natural good humor (shhh, no laughing) doing this work every day if not for the stated goal? To be honest, I doubt it. I’ve come to see that while the work I do serves my own short to mid term goals, there’s another category that’s missing – the long term. I want what I do every day, day in, day out, to serve a long term goal as well. And on top of that, I’m talking about a long term goal that’s not just for me.

I’m getting of track, or am I. In order to focus solely on the present, I need to know, at least in the back of my mind, that what I’m doing is serving some – fine, I’ll say it – greater good. And to work back to the actual present, before I can shift that focus, I need to get that debt paid off. And living as simply as I can is the best way I know to do this. And just like that I’ve solved this conundrum. I’ll do this little exercise again for a different goal and see if I can make it all connect that easily again in the next few days.

Thanks for being my sounding board and as always, I hope you can take something from this and make it work for you in your daily life.

Some things will have to go

I had another one of those blinding moments of DUH the other day. I was just sitting down to write my daily page and hadn’t come up with anything to write about. As I uncapped my pen it hit me – with my present goal being to get my debts paid off and settle into my new life out here, some things were going to have to go. What I mean is that some things will have to be shunted to the back burner, others will have to fall off the back and get lost under the stove for all eternity, and what’s left will get privilege of place.

What hit me strongest about this wasn’t the fact of some things having to be pushed aside for now, I’ve known that for years. It was the fact that this simple way of looking at it had eluded me until that moment. What about the morning of that day (I think it was Wednesday of last week) opened me to being able to articulate this simple reality? And why had I not had this moment of clarity before?

Again, I know that when a major priority in your life is paying off debts, you’re not going to be out stocking your closet with new clothes, or buying a new iPad; you might have to sacrifice the perfect apartment to be closer to transit, etc…these things strike me as self-evident. Boy, sure am glad I’m already into Voluntary Simplicity and consider myself a non-consumer…

Apparently I needed a reminder?

Admittedly, I do need a kick in the head from time to time as a reminder to NOT spend money like it’s mine to spend, because it’s not. I don’t really like money. The whole history of it’s use and abuse doesn’t tend to make me sympathetic, plus the fact that we’re forced to trade something I deem far more valuable – time – for it, leaves me a bit bitter.

This is why I like writing that daily page. It forces me to stop and think for a minute. Uninterrupted. If I’m writing in the morning, it’s likely still dark out so I put on just enough light to see the paper and can reflect on what happened the previous day, how I slept that night, and what I’m expecting out of the coming day. And if I’m writing at the end of the day…actually it’s pretty much the same stuff running through my head, just in a different order.

This also led to me re-re-evaluating some of the things on my list. Like when I have to start looking for an apartment in 6 months, I’ll likely focus on the closest to transit I can afford, and ignore the buildings appearance, having upstairs neighbors, laundry in the unit, etc. Right now, and I’m going out on a limb and assuming this will hold true in 6 months, being close to transit and amenities like a grocery store, zip cars and bike share will retain privilege of place and drive my hunt.

OK, time for todays page.

Period of reflection – over.

Alright y’all, two weeks away from online life; one spent helping family pack up and say goodbye to Seattle and one spent back in daily life here in DC and a few things are much more clear to me. First, I like interacting with people in small numbers. Second, I DO NOT like interacting with people in large numbers. Third, I most definitely absorbed more passive-aggressive over the years in Seattle than I realized. Fourth and perhaps most relevant to this venue, I like the vast majority of the interactions I’ve had with people online.

Now I’ll take these in reverse order. On the online interactions, I’ve reactivated comments on the blog. I had turned them off years ago (before I changed the name and reset all the content). To be honest, I can’t even remember the exact situation and reasons for having done this. Therefore, they’re back. Comment away people!

Next, passive-aggressive twitty-ness. Sheesh, I really wish someone had smacked me upside the head a while ago and told me what a wishy-washy passive-aggressive twit I had turned into. I know, I don’t often offer strong opinions, and most of the time that’s because I honestly just don’t care either way. There’s a line though, and at some point I crossed it. There’s honestly not caring one way or the other and there’s just not wanting to commit to an opinion. One is OK – the other is decidedly NOT OK.

OK, people in large groups. Wow, I don’t even know where to begin on this one. I’ve known for years that I don’t like crowds. I just get drained psychically, physically, and emotionally the more I’m around lots of people. It’s like they just suck it out of me. More recently I read the book Quite, The power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking (non-affiliate link), and came to understand that I am a textbook Introvert. One on one, or in small group settings, I’m good. In fact, I find I excel in these situations, especially when I’m teaching something. I love it.

The flip side was driven home while I was in Seattle. A very old and dear friend happened to be in town at the same time so of course we made plans to meet up. His wife wanted to see the Pike Place Market. I wanted to see him, so that’s where we went. I regretted not putting up a fight the instant I got there and realized there must have been a cruise ship and/or convention in town. I couldn’t even see the landmark we were set to meet at…from 5 feet away! Needless to say by the time I got home I needed some Me Time.

OK, so I ended up covering the first item at the same time, in my defense these two are interrelated to the point of not being able to disentangle them.

Going forward, I hereby promise to:

  • offer an opinion in unambiguous terms.
  • find more opportunities to interact with people in small groups/one on one
  • limit my exposure to large numbers of people whenever possible

All of these things can be said to be for me, and at the same time for those around me. I know I can be difficult at times and I’m hoping these simple rules will help keep that in check and improve my interactions and relationships with those I enjoy spending time with.


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