Monday, September 09, 2013

Body & Mind –> Younger Next Year

In their book “Younger Next Year,” Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge make the case that much of what we think of as aging is simply the fact that we have allow our human bodies to gain a layer of rust.  In their minds, the human body pretty well takes care of itself up to around age 40, then suddenly, you need to go into maintenance mode.

I will use the analogy that if you buy car fresh from the lot, everything goes pretty well.  The tires are new.  The oil is fresh.  The water pump works.  Everything is great.  Now if you don’t do anything to the car, it will start to fall apart.  I have lived off of this principle for quite a while.  A lot of people start to think about selling their car when it gets to around 50,000 miles because they think the car will start to break down.  However, in reality, cars that are properly taken care of can last 200,000 to 300,000 miles or beyond.  Sure some things will need to be replaced, but this is just part of making sure that the car runs well as it ages.

All of us only have one body, thus the need to maintain that body is something that we need to take care of.  Similar to a car, it is much better to get on top of the problem before something really goes wrong.  The problem with our bodies is that if they are neglected, they get themselves into situations that are much harder to repair.

The book does a nice job of pointing out how you maintain your body.  The principle is one of stress-repair-stress.  If you have any background in exercise physiology, you will understand what I am talking about.  However, to recap this principle, you need to understand that continual resting is the enemy of getting stronger.  We all know this because we all know that somebody that is confined to bed rest gets very, very weak.

To build a stronger anything, you need to first start by tearing down that anything.  In the case of weightlifting, to make a stronger muscle, you must put enough stress on that muscle to exhaust the muscle and create tiny little microtears in your muscle fibers.  This damage signals to your body that you need to kick-off a repair process, and this repair process makes the muscle stronger than the original state.

The medical part of the authorship team, Henry Lodge, points this out.  In essence,   the body has a series of messengers called cytokines.  Now there is some debate if some cytokines should simply be called a signaling molecule or if they really should be called a hormone.  For us it really doesn’t matter.  These cytokines, which are types of protein molecules such as interleukin and interferon,  are the things that kick off our ability to get stronger and repair our body.

Our body is normally in one of two states:  anabolic or catabolic.  This is an output of our metabolism pathways, which is the way that our bodies function.  Both of these process are required for good health.  However, we generally allow the catabolic pathway to get out of whack in our modern world.  The catabolic pathway is the process of breaking down more complex structure to release energy.  The problem happens when the body breaks down things and never repairs things.  As mentioned before in this blog, Robert Sapolsky covers the stress hormone glucocorticoid, the action of which tends to burn the body out.  They are great things to have at the right time, but horrible thing to have all the time.  Unfortunately, our modern environment keys us toward an overabundance of these negative chemicals.

The authors go on to vastly oversimplify a chemical cascade in what they simply refer to as the C6 and C10 cycle.  (While there are many other chemical pathways involved, including C-Reactive Proteins, I will repeat the simplified version here.)   In essence, they point out that we need a big boost of C6, which gets generated during aerobic exercise, to cause a big boost of C10, the chemical signal to rebuild, to take place.  If you cannot create a big surge of C6, you never get the right stuff to make sure that your body is maintained. 

This is only the first part of the book, and we’ll come back to this later to understand what the author points will be in a later blog post.  However, I hope that even this short version will cause you to start thinking about preparing for the future.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Mind, Body, Spirit –> Lewis Terman And Long Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1921, Lewis Terman out of Stanford University decided that he should start to track 1,500 bright children to see how their life would unfold.  He was a bit of data fiend, and his notes and research on these children and their adult lives are documented and explained in “The Longevity Project” by Howard Friendman and Leslie Martin.

While the book is somewhat interesting, I find that it can be summarized fairly quickly with a set of inferences and deductions from the meticulous historical records that Terman kept.

Here is my summary of the top principles:

1. Be thoughtful and conscientious in your approach to life

2. Have the right amount of stress and worry

3. Have some type of a social structure that you can lean on

It turns out that multiple behaviors are associated with longer and healthier life spans.  The authors, trying to take these very simple principles, work hard to expand this data into 200 pages, with some self quizzes so the reader can try and compare the desired behaviors to behaviors in their own lives.

The first character trait that pays off for a longer life span has to do with people that are conscientious in the way that they approach life.  This trait simply means that they are thoughtful and careful in how they go after things.  If you want to think about this, this would be the careful planner, the individual who is thinking about today and tomorrow.  This is the person that is well organized and well prepared.

Once you have this mindset, the rest of your life falls into place.  The rest of life is much more difficult to give any general rules about.  For instance, marriage in and of itself is not helpful in determining if the tracked subjects lived longer.  Instead, it turns out that “happily married” turns out to be important, especially if you are  man.  Or in other cases, you don’t need “the perfect job” to have a long life span.  You do need a job.  You do need to be extraordinarily happy in this job.  If it is an awful, an over stress producing job, you need to move out of it.  However, a dream job was not what drove long life.

As a matter of fact, the authors demonstrate that generally the idea that somebody would have the perfect job, be super cheery, and not have a worrier did not result in anything that correlated to a long life.  Those that did no worrying, were overly optimistic and carefree, basically did things like skip doctor appointments because they assumed that they didn’t have cancer.  Instead, you need to approach life in a thoughtful manner and realize that not all that happens will be good. 

If having carefree existence does not help, the opposite was not true: having a fully stress life (such as warfare and divorce) does not help.  Constantly worrying and thinking that to live is to be doomed to some type of a punishing existence is the opposite rails, and also had some very bad results.

Speaking of worrying, they have a rather special case that they call out.  They stole a term from Martin Seligman, who is the father of positive psychology, called call catastrophizers.  These were the people that believed that once something started to go wrong, everything was going to go wrong.  They could not have a simple problem, and instead they would perceive that they had a disaster.  So, the net is to not have a carefree life, but you should also not see disaster behind every curve.

You need stress, but not too much stress.  You need to aim at the right target and push yourself, but not push your self too hard.  This is especially interesting for how we are to push our children, and the data that Terman found.

Pushing a child too hard seemed to plague a child through their life.  The data basically shows that when a child was pushed hard to read early and to enter school early, the child started down a path of inappropriate stress.  In the data, there were parents that determined that they were going to “push” their children to do better or shoot higher.  This unfortunately means that these children were always working slightly beyond their ability, and this unfortunate “head start” turned in a path that generally was not helpful over the entire life of the child.

Living the carefree life, or as they call out in their myth questions “play more golf,” does not make one live longer.  We were made for stress, and the very simple example of this is apparent to anyone that has ever tried to get into shape:  too much rest does not result in a healthy body.In all things balance, and balance in all things.  Pushy parents only hurt their children.  Having periods of good stress and good rest results in very good health.

As a general principle, the key to a strong body is made up of cycling.  You run, bike or lift weights.  This does not make you stronger.  It tires you out.  Once you are tired out, the body comes back and rebuilds the body stronger.  You need the stress and you need the rest.  It is only when these two things are present, does the athlete get better.

Finally, the key for good life also means that you have some type of social support structure.  The subjects that were studied were tied to their own time, and I can see this come out in the book.  For most of these subjects, the man was expected to go off to work and bring home the bread.  It turns out that in this environment, husbands looked to their wives to give them the support that they needed to thrive.  So, it turns out that a happy marriage really helped husbands live longer. 

The opposite was not true for the wives.  In general, women of this age had more ability to gain enough social support outside of the marriage to be healthful.  This has been documented many places outside of the book, and should be no surprise to anybody that has read this type of literature before.  You do not need a thousand friends.  You do not need to have “soul mates.”  What you need is a set of good relationships and friends that will support you, and where you feel a sense of belonging.  Many men that lived long lives found this environment with their wives.  Unfortunately, these men also tended to die quickly once their wives died.

The logical next step in this train of thought and research is to ask “what was the exact behaviors that the conscientious had.  I think it is obvious:

a. They would eat the right stuff and not smoke or do other damaging activities

b. They would stay physically active because the knew it was good for their outlook

c. The would schedule Doctor appointments

d. They would know that having a set of friends was simply part of having a good life

The point is, however, the conscientious person will do this naturally and gravitate toward this behavior.  They will build up a schedule and a life style that results in a long life.  Those that aren’t this way, simply ignore the warning signs.

The ultimate question is “how do I become more thoughtful in the way that I live life.”

I personally, for one, hope that you read my blog and apply its principles.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mind, Body, Spirit –> “By The Sweat Of Your Brow”

In Genesis 3:19, there is a verse that stuck me as odd from my very early readings of the scripture

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

At a very early age, all of my Sunday School teachers and Bible teachers would simply explain that this verse meant that man was built to toil.  When you work hard you get sweaty, and the sweat that mentioned is the sweat of hard labor.  I understand the poetic license about this, and I don’t doubt that this is one meaning of this verse.  However, even at an extremely young age, I thought something different.  I though, “I wonder if we have to sweat to be healthy and be able to work.”  However, this meaning would be too odd for most people.  Why would God call out in the early part of the scriptures the need to sweat?  No, it simply must be that this verse means to “work.”

Well, the research is turning to a very interesting direction.  It may be that what I suspected many, many years ago as a child, may actually be right.  God created man, and if man does not sweat (fro some type of a labor) it will have a strong detrimental effect on our lives. 

Through out this blog, I have preached the idea that we are a triune creature.  We are made up of mind, body, and spirit.  It is turning out that this is more true than ever, as we see that our body’s activity level is tied closely to the health of our brain.

John Rately covers this subject in the book Spark: the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.  This book has my own “top ten” books that should and would change your life if you are willing to read it, understand it, and change your life.

We have covered some of this before, but let’s do a quick summary of some of the key areas of the brain and the way that it is wired.  The way that your brain cells talk to each other is through chemical signaling.  Often we think that because computers are electrical, our brains must run on electricity of some type.  However, the key interchange is in the gaps between nerve cells.  The communication in these gaps is chemical in nature.  The type of chemical that lives between these gaps (or what are call synapses) are called neurotransmitters. 

There are a few things that we want to do with our brain, and these neurotransmitters get involved with making sure we can do these things:

1. We want to compute things

2. We want to retain and recall things

3. We want to be able to move our bodies

Two of the major neurotransmitters are glutamate and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA).  The first one gets your going, and the second one, which is known for slowing your brain down (inhibitory) in mature brains.  However, these neurotransmitters are critical and used all the time to signal any motion or thought, but they are not the focus for this post.

There are multiple other neurotransmitters, a handful have really interesting properties.

Norepinephrine is often used as the flight or fight signaler, but it also make you alert and awake and more on edge. If you have high levels of this chemical, your heart rate is going to go up, and some parts of your brain will really come alive, such as the amyglia.  Norepinephrine is made in the Locus coeruleus, which is part of your brain.  Exercise will create a small increase in norepinephrine, and this in turn make it a bit easier for individuals to learn things.  However, the effects don’t stop here.  From other reading, I believe that norepinephrine is a part of a hormone cascade.  By linking it to physical activity, you give the right feedback into your system.  Physical activity seems to create it, and it should be used for physical activity.  It may also be important for your mental health.  It turns out that a break down product of this is called methoxyhydroxyphenylglycol (MHPG), lower levels of this by product is often present in depressed people.  It would make sense that without the proper cycle of norepinephrine, you won’t have the appropriate level of MHPG. 

In his book “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” Robert Sapolsky explains that our modern environment is set up to confuse our brains.  Norepinephrine is not necessarily the “stress hormone” per se.  Norepinephrine is a catecholamine, which means that it’s action is rather short.  There is the real set of stress hormones called glucocorticoids that stress you out over hours or maybe even over days. 

So your brain has two sets of chemicals in the way that it reacts to stress.  The problem is that these different chemical are designed to be used in different ways and are related to each other, but in our modern environment we totally screw this cascade up.  First, our population has a lower level of norepinephrine than we should.  This is because we don’t do the basic exercise required for healthy levels of this neurotransmitter. 

Secondly, we elevate the glucocorticoid levels in our body when we shouldn’t.  It turns out that our modern environment tends to increase our levels of glucocorticoids (such as corticosteriod) in our bloodstream.  We all know this feeling.  You are sitting in traffic.  The guy in front of your is allowing the cars to get in front of him, and thus you feel that you are going backwards.  Yet you are closed off in this little tin box and you can’t do anything about it, other than get frustrated.  Your glucocorticoid level is rising, and the way to turn it off is for you to do something physical like running.  However, because we don’t run, the level of this stress hormone simply stays high. 

This is bad news, and does some nasty things to your body.  This post is not about Sapolsky’s work, however, but my guess is that physical activity is very helpful for this stress.  For more background on this aspect, I encourage you to go to this post, and listen to Radiolab link that I have.  Net-net, physical activity will also help your stress levels in my opinion.

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter of being calm.  Serotonin is created from the amino acid tryptophan.  There are some nights that I am upset about something that happened at work, or something that I need to do.  Because of this, I will awake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get to sleep.  In this case, I get up and go downstairs to take 1g of tryptophan on an empty stomach.  Because I rarely take this drug, the tryptophan crosses my brain-blood barrier, and once there, it says, “why not make some serotonin?”  While this effect goes away after multiple nights, it always works the first night. It takes about an hour, but suddenly I till feel as if I am calm and extremely tired.  I will always quickly fall asleep.

Dopamine is another key neurotransmitter because is helps in concentration.  If you have high levels of dopamine, you’ll be able to sit down and crank through whatever you need to do.  Dopamine allows you to have the feel of complete absorption, where all you want to do is finish your project.  The break down of people’s systems to either receive or create dopamine can results in problems like schizophrenia or Parkinson's disease, which killed my maternal Grandfather.

These neurotransmitters are so important that they are often try to be modified with other drugs.  For instance, lack of dopamine means kids can’t concentrate.  This leads to Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  To solve this problem, we have been giving our children Adderral or Ritalin, which effectively raises the level of dopamine in the brain.  Prozac does something similar for serotonin levels in the brain.  Prozac is known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which simply means that whatever serotonin that you have in your brain sticks around longer.  With Prozac, people who are nervous and worried find out that life is much, much better.  There brains are no longer uptight and wound up.  People that suffer with depression may suddenly find that life is worth living.

Unfortunately, these drugs have side effects as they are screwing around with your brain chemistry.  Prozac users are known to have more suicidal thoughts. The long term effects of Ritalin and Adderall don’t look like a good long term fix either.  The government has been sponsoring long term follow-up on these types of drugs in “The Multimodal Treatment Study” (MTA).  You’ll find out that the kids start off just great, but after about 3 years, the effects fade.  Adderall may get somebody through an episode, but it does not solve the issue.

It turns out that there is an alternative.  Ratey documents, illustrates and explains how your brain changes with aerobic exercise.  Dopamine levels go up.  Serotonin levels go up.  The brain adjusts and become much more balanced.  The effects are similar, if not better than the prescription drugs that are used on children and adults.  Ratey is a little discourage in that the mainstream medical society is starting to come around, but it is hard to read his book an not feel that the evidence is building so quickly that even the conservative, slow society of doctors will embrace this new research.

If the brain benefits of exercise stopped there, we would have a revolution on our hands, one that has the potential to change the face of our world.  However, this is just the tip of the iceberg for exercise and the brain.  There are a whole hosts of changes that happen inside of our brain.  One of the most exciting one is the fact that we can create new brain cells.  The only method to get them?  Aerobic exercise.

There are several parts of the brain that you should be aware of to make sure you understand what is happening.  The idea of forming memories and learning is called long-term potentiation (LTP), which effects several areas of the brain.  The main actors that we are interested in is the cerebellum , the hippocampus. and the neo-cortex or cortex.

The cerebellum only makes up 10% of our brain.  Doesn’t look very big on the picture.  Here’s the factoid for the day.  This small part of your brain contains 50% of your brain cells.  It is packed full of activity, and for the most part you are not aware of it.

The reason why you don’t know about the cerebellum is that you are conscious of your conscience. While this part of the brain has some responsibility for fear, pleasure, and language, the primary thing that it does is control your motor skills.

The cortex is where all of your thinking happens, at least your conscious thoughts.  The frontal lobe is well known for making a bunch of deep thoughts, and philosophers must have a well developed frontal lobe.  The cortex is the most recognizable thing about the brain if you’ve seen pictures, as it is outer covering which looks a little like a sponge, and looks grey, thus cause some people to refer to the brain as the “grey matter.”

Finally, the hippocampus is basically a clearing and routing center.  It makes sure that the long term memories are saved, and that the really important stuff gets kept.  If you have trouble with knowing what is important, and we all do time to time, the hippocampus probably didn’t route the right stuff for saving.

It turns out that when we exercise, our body creates Brain Derived Neurotrophic Ffactor (BDNF).  Nootropics are drugs that make you smarter.  For a number of years, many people have tried to find a “smart pill” to help them get bright.  Neurotrophic is positive toward brain cell growth.  You may have been told at some time that “you only get so many brain cells.”  This really is not true as you can proto-brain cells.  The trick is to get them to bloom.  When we exercise, we grow new brain cells (neurogenesis).  Exercise does this.

Now if these brain cells are not used, they don’t stick around.  Any brain cell that is not used basically stops reaching out to it neighbors and shrinks in size.  However, you get an opportunity to lock in these new cells because you made them.  You just need to go out and study.  Then these new cell will be incorporated into your brain system.

Exercise allows you concentrate more.  It makes you more happy.  It makes your smarter. For a more indepth discussion of all of this, I encourage you to buy the book “Spark.”

However, there are some caveats about this.  The first is that you may get some good results right away if you start to exercise.  Yet, many of the biggest impacts  come after long term exposure to exercise.  In the case of having serotonin levels increased, the study saw Prozac  type of levels after six months.

Also, going to the gym and doing weights or pilates is good, but certainly does not do all the chemical rebalancing that one would want.  There is only one way to get the good stuff: get your heart rate up.  This means aerobic activity.  There are  many good sites on what this means, but even wikipedia has a great starter section.

This is not to say that other types of skill sports are not important, as both coordination sports (such as yoga or golf) and weightlifting has many good impacts.  In the future, I predict that we’ll see that exercise needs to be defined into buckets like our food groups. 

However, there is no doubt, aerobic exercise is the most important exercise for the brain and our overall health.  It can make us more balanced, more healthy and smarter.  Now, the trick to figure out how to get all of the world to get the discipline to start exercising.

In conclusion, I will finish with a story that Rately starts his book off with.  In Naperville, Illinois, they got the idea that exercise may help with academics.  However, this is not the old “gym class” exercise.  They thought that kids that enjoyed aerobic activity would do better in school  The results are nothing less than outstanding.  This particular school district have a group of kids that test well out of the norm of what would be expected of their social-economic arena.  In fact, they have because they have take a smart drug called “exercise.”

When the school district decided to match themselves up against the rest of the world in academics, they decided to take a test call standards test called TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), which the USA regular ends up around 9th or 10th place.  When the kids from Naperville took the the test, they ended up as better than the best in the world in science, and 6th in math.

When they school district tested the kids for being overweight, they came in with only 3% of kids being overweight, as compared with the national average of 30%.

Exercise.  Good for the body and brain.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Body and Mind–> David Allen’s Horizons Of Focus

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Summary:

In this blog post, you are going to discover several important tools and techniques:

1. David Allen’s Horizon Of Focus Model

2. The Hacker’s Diet

3. Typeracer

This blog post will encourage you to think about where you are doing and the changes that you will need to make in your life to get there.

Full Text:

If you visit my personal blog, you will see that I have described the “Hacker’s Diet” before. Unlike most people, you can check in on me and see what my weight is any day.  Now this is not something that I am placing on a Facebook page to get those that don’t know me to look at me.  No, this is more of a personal statement to to that really want to know me, and who have found my personal blog.  I want you to know what I am striving for, and what I aspire to be.

The reason that I am doing this is to pose a question.

The question in this life, as you age, is “do you want to fight it or do you want to go with the flow?”  Many years ago, when I was in high school, I had my first girl friend, who was a bit of a very conservative person but also a little bit of a rebel underneath it all.  I remember having some very deep conversations with her, and the one thing that I said is that “I don’t ever want to become stagnant.” 

While my definition of what stagnant has changed dramatically over the years, the core of this statement is still alive within my heart.  As you age, you will start to find out that not going backwards requires effort.  So the point is to make sure that every day I am fighting to go forward.  This may mean that I don’t go backwards, but this is good enough.

In the same way, I want to encourage you not to become stagnant.  It is not important what you choose, but I believe that it is incredibly important that you choose.  To no longer push, to move, to go forward is a pitiful thing.  The goal to push forward is noble, and a higher calling.

I have turned the golden 50 years of age, and this has thrown me into reflection.  How much longer do I have to live?  I don’t know, but I could hope that I could do the same as my parents, which live to over 80 years of age.  However, I do not want to be a non-productive sort of person.  I want to push the envelope, and see what I can do.  I have an old piece of machinery, which is call my mind and body.  My soul is eternal, but let’s see what the other aging parts of my body can do.

I tend to think in 10 year increments, so I am committed to 10 more years of working at my current job (or unless the job leaves me) to discover what somebody in their 50s can do.  In many ways, this is something that I felt I should have thought about more when I was younger, and I am incredibly thankful that I was able to make some basic changes in my life, and I am looking forward to keep those changes going and becoming deeper and richer.

The real question is what changes do you want to make?

The challenge comes in that as you show up at work or home every day, you will find that the distractions of the work day threaten to overwhelm you with all the stuff that needs to get done. A year, 5 years, or even a decade can pass quickly, and you can fall into things rather than making things in your own direction.   Therefore, the goal, the objectives and the plans are something that you need to figure out so you can make sure that you are pointed in the right direction.

In other words, life is a series of decisions, and you need to make sure that every small decision is taking you forward and not moving you to the side, or even backward.  This is similar to people that are lost in the wilderness.  In studies where people are placed in environments where there are no clear landmarks, it has been found that these people will go in a slight curve, even when they are going straight.  This means that if they walk long enough, they will end up going in a circle.  The only way to stop this is to pick something in the distance and head toward that.  If you pick a high mountain, or goal, you no longer go in a circle.  You move forward everyday to the goal. 

The key is:  Stop walking in circles by picking a point in the distance.

One of the best ways of thinking about life, and one of the things that I said that I would like to do during my 10 years of working life, is to figure out what level you are thinking at and what level you are communicating at.  In other words, you need to pick the far off goal, then figure out how the short term goals fit into that long term goal.

A very simple methodology is David Allen’s Horizon Of Focus model.  This model is an invaluable framework for both business and personal life.  If you don’t understand that life is lived at different levels, you will miss some very important changes and insights.

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As an individual or as a business, we need to think about what we are doing, and pick the goal in the distance that will keep us focused for daily tasks.  At the top level of this pyramid is the purpose and values of our life or our business.  Once you have an idea of the purpose and values that you want to hold you can figure out your vision.

Example Of 50K’ Purpose and Values:

(What Legacy Will I Leave?)

I am a provider and salt

At the top level, I only have one desire in life.  I want to prove fiscally for my family.  Secondly, I want to be able to help guide them.  I do have a different thought than many people.  Some people have a strong desire to “be the best Dad” or “teach my kids.”  I have secondary goals here, but I believe that the first and foremost requirement on a head of household is to create an atmosphere of security for his wife and children.  The worst thing that I think a kid can have is the insecurity of not know if you can take care of them, and the greatest feeling that I can do it make sure that we are fiscally safe.

I have written about this before, the key to a successful and prosperous life is basically saving more than you spend.  Your salary is not a factor unless you cannot cover the essentials and have enough to put away for the future.  Most of our problems to get to security is not a income issue.  It is a spend issue.

As for me being “salt,” this is very simple.  I desire to make everything that I am involved with be a little more interesting and a little more favorable.  I do not need to be the main dish.  I do need to make the main dish taste better.

Example of 40,000’ Vision (Where Are You Going?):

(What Am I Known As?)

I am a sought after provider of value-add to the industry and a clear shepherd to the people I work with

So then we pop down to the the “vision” part of our Horizons of Focus.  My role is somebody that is a good business mind, with good business contacts, with good business strengths, and the ability to make money for a company.  Because I can make money for a company, I will be rewarded in turn.  After I get done in the business world, I would like to coach or teach about the business world.  If I am considered as having the right mind, and title, I will be able to accomplish this.  Unfortunately, what I have discovered as I have gotten older is that what somebody does versus what somebody is has a wide gap.  When you are at the very bottom level of any pyramid, there is a little more fairness.  Once you get into the middle management layer, it becomes an item of luck and also fairness.  I have been promoted when I didn’t desire it, and I have been not promoted when I didn’t deserve it.

So the insight in this world is:

  • You need to have skills
  • You need others to see and value those skills

So, to get to my desired vision, I need to do two things:

  • Enhance my skills so I am really producing
  • Enhance how other people see me

At the same time, I want the family that I lead or the people that I guide understand that I am watching over the flock.  This means that I am taking care of each one, watching out for each one, and protecting each one.  If you are part of my social circle, I am going to make sure that I am thinking and worrying about you.

I do, however, get to pick who is in the flock.

An Example Of 30,000’ Goal Level (Where Is Your Job Going?):

(What do I Want To Get Done In The Next Two to Five years?)

Generally, when you look at your goal level, David Allen tells us that we should look out over the next one to two years.  I think that this is too short as I reach 50 years of age.  When you turn 50, you start to realize that you can’t do much in one to two years.  You need a longer time to move in this direction.  For me, you need enough time to really establish whatever you want to do.  As I have posted earlier, KA Ericcson has pointed out that you need around 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything.  This means that if you work at something 8 hours a day in a deliberate fashion, you will become an expert in five years.  Thus in my mind, you really want around 5 years as the maximum, because your goals may be “to become an expert,” and you need to realize that it will take you 5 years to get there.

More than this, I also believe that in some areas, you will never become all that you want to be, and you might actually go backward unless you have it as a goal to go forward.  So, I mark off certain areas that I know must always go forward.

So, with that preamble, here is my list of 30,000’ goals for myself. 

  1. Be healthy in body and mind
  2. Have strong relationships with people I need to have relationship with
  3. Manage people below me well
  4. Lead those around me
  5. Have skills that I’ve honed
  6. Be knowledgeable about our industry
  7. Be highly productive and efficient
  8. Have a good reputation and reveal my abilities to others

Example Of 20,000’ Focus And Responsibilities (What Is Your Job?):

(What Are The Major Areas That I am Focusing On Under The Goals)

Now that we have he goals, then we need to start saying “here’s is the areas that I want to focus in.”  For me, that means that we start to dig into each of the goals, and start to dig a little deeper into each area.  In many ways, the blog way of writing about this is not clear.  Instead, a good outlining tool is much better.  Really, for this to make perfect sense, each goal should then have areas of focus and responsibilities tucked under it nicely.  So, I will list each goal, then I will place some of the focus and responsibilities areas underneath each one.

1. Be healthy in body and mind

This is the first goal, but now the question if how to do this.  I do this through the following:

  • a. Take my vitamins
  • b. Eat some key foods
  • c. Run on a regular basis
  • d. Golf on a regular basis
  • e. Stay at a healthy weight
  • f. Get a proper night’s sleep
  • g. Have an appropriate amount of integrative stress

Each one of these areas could take a very long blog post, and while I may do this someday, I will not do it today.  I will only say that I live a very complicated life, and I keep my sanity by rigorously executing a routine that I have done for many years.  I have established a habit, and not consciously thinking through how to do the above every day.

Even though I will not do a full blog post, let me simply write about getting a “proper night’s sleep.”

Many people that I know do not have this as a goal.  However, sleep impacts all aspects of life, and not just being “tired.”  Without proper sleep, you won’t live as long, you won’t produce as much, and you won’t be mentally healthy.  Moving from bad habits to good habits on sleep is life changing and may impact your life dramatically.  There is an old proverb by Ben Franklin that describes how a battle was lost because somebody did not secure a horseshoe correctly.  Sometimes lack of taking care of the small things can have devastating effects on our lives.  Yet, it is easy to not get up to the high level and convince ourselves that a bad night sleep is “just for a little while,” and what happens in history is that “the little whiles” never stop, and the good night sleep never begins.

The point is that you need to pull up to a very high level to figure out the small things that have big impacts and the big things that will have no impact.

2. Have strong relationships with the people that I need to have a relationship with

To have a relationship, you need to have some basis of a relationship.  There are three ways of crafting a relationship:  meet together, eat together, or play golf together.  Again, this is a very long blog post, and I will not cover it here.

3. Manage the people below me well

I have been rather poor about this area of the years simply because I have been so busy attacking other areas that I neglected this.  However, I have been recently dedicating more to this area.  I have been using a simple framework with my people, which I cannot recommend highly enough:  How To Be a Star At Work.

Being A Star At Work is a very simple book, and very easy to understand.  However, if taken to heart, it can have a profound way on how we communicate to the people that work under us, or it can heavily impact the way that we are seen by others.

4. Lead Those Around Me

There are many different schools of leadership.  However, in my mind all leadership boils now to 2 simple ideas:

  • a. A leader has insight
  • b. A leader can talk others into things

I like to say that insight only yields somebody that is an architect.  A person that can talk others into their viewpoint is a sales person.  A leader is where insight and salesmanship meet.

5. Have Skills That I’ve Honed

True skills are things that you can do that other people cannot do.  Skill is not opinions.  Skill is not showing up.  Skill is something that you can do that is clearly better than somebody else.  When you have a skill, most people will say “wow, that person has a skill.”

An example of a skill that I wanted a number of years ago was the ability to deal with pivot tables in Excel.  If you know how to manage a pivot table, you can take any set of numbers and data and be able to pull out trends, figures, and facts that other people cannot pull out.  Getting Pivot table skills has been invaluable for me.

Another skill that I have been trying to hone of late is my typing skills.  If you are a fast typist, you will have the ability to create things and create outputs faster and better than a person that cannot type.  If you are typing under 50 Words per Minute (WPM), then shame on you.  Anybody should have the basic capability of typing quickly.  For me, I recently figured out that I wanted to up the level on this skill.  So, I recently started to work on my typing speed every night on a site called Typeracer.  If you look at the chart below, you’ll see the progress that I’ve been making over the last 6-8 weeks.

image

The line above is plotting the WPM speed to a series of quotes that go from 30 to 60 seconds long.  The black line represents the 50 score moving area.  If you read the chart from left to right, you can see that when I first started, I was typing righ around 65 words per minute.  After 400-500 races, I took a jump up to around 74-75.

While it may look like I have been stuck for quite a while, in reality, I have been making forward progress.  Early in my typing, I was spending time practicing on practice mode, and only typing after being warmed up.  In contrast, for the last 500 races or so, I have simply been jumping in and racing.  I also have had more than a few nights practicing although I have been very tired this month.  My goal is to be a ble to typing fast no matter how tired I am.  Considering that I am now at 70+ WPM, I think I am doing okay.

As we move on down the list, we start to look into the areas that we want to focus on and be responsible for.  In some sense, I had already combined focus and responsibilities into the goals section above.  You can think of the focus and responsibilities as sub-bullets on of the goals section.  However, we can start digging a little bit deeper into each area and call out the specifics of the goals.

I am also working on my golf skills.  While I had taking up golf back in 2004, I had played regularly for about 3 years, got to a place where I broke 100 on an easy course, and then I shelved my work here.  However, in 2010, I decided that having golf skills would be good because my son said that he wanted to play high school golf. 

image

Since that time, I have played a lot of rounds, and you can see these rounds in the chart above.  You can see as I went into the 2012 year, I started to get a lot of rounds below 100, and I broke 90 for the first time.  What isn’t shown on this chart is as I started to get better, I took all the easy to hit clubs out of the bag to make it tougher.  Why?  Because the people that I play with were simply getting too far behind. 

However, by moving to a more difficult set of clubs, I got worse, and therefore, I got closer.  While golf has this great thing called a “handicap,” it is not so easy using this to play with people that have no handicap.  So, I am much better than the score shows, but my main goal was to be at the right level.  This means that while I have a golf skill, I really want to use golf for my relationships.

6. Be knowledgeable about our industry

Be Known For Excellence In Following Areas:

  • 30,000 Ft Business Person
  • 30,000 Ft Technologist

In some areas, I have already put in my time.  Not that I don’t need to keep it updated, but I have spent many years in the business area.  I have enough experience here, so that this is not an area that I need to radically improve on.  So, once you have ever gotten to a certain level of competence, you can maintain that level with some reasonable amount of work.  I believe that I have some very deep insight into business models, capabilities, and ways to win. 

As a Technologist, I am not bad.  I do need to spend more time here, but this is something that I naturally gravitate to, and I am not worried about naturally moving in this direction.

7. Be highly Productive and Efficient

We live in the golden age.  An average person has access to more options, technology, and life improving capabilities than ever before.  There is only one reason why we are in such a good time: We get more output with less input.  We are getting more productive and efficient.

If I can do the work of multiple people, then I am going to get more done.  At the end of the day, you get measured by two things:

How much time you put in

How much results you get out

Unfortunately, which we’ll address in the next section, we work in the era of knowledge work.  This means that we deal with an intangible output.  When you deal with an intangible output, you cannot easily measure output.  I have seen over and over and over again, management confuse the two things.

To quote Drucker:

The single greatest challenge facing managers in the developed countries of the world is to raise the productivity of knowledge and service workers.

8. Have a good reputation and reveal my abilities to others

My ability to enhance how other people see me is related to the following:

  1. I need to understand the organizational structure above me.
  2. I need to understand what the people above me find as important
  3. Then I have to make myself available to be able to move myself into a role that both increases my responsibility and title, and is recognized by the rest of the organization as being impactful
  4. I need to give off the impression that I am the right person and my abilities are revealed

#2 is very interesting because there is only two things that happen in business:

  1. You are the guy that figures out what needs to be done (you plan)
  2. You are the guy that gets the stuff done (you execute and report)

The best of all worlds, you have individuals that do both.  The important thing is to realize that these are two separate phases. 

The first phase in #2 is all about decision making.  I have been working through some of the work of Michael Driver out of USC, and some of his co-worker, Ken Brousseau, in a book called “The Dynamic Decision Maker,” which I think is a good buy for only $4 on Amazon Kindle. I will cover this in a separate post, but because so much of the business life is “the guy that figures out what needs to be done” as you get to the top level, it is worth understanding the research of people that have looked just at this process.  You may find the book just a bit dry, but it is well worth working through.

The second phase in #2 is all about how I follow through with my group management abilities.

#4 is another interesting one because the human mind is so deceptive in the way that it picks up on signals.  One of the things that recently was revealed to me by someone was a comment about the way that I dress.  To make a long story short, I dress in the area that I work, which is with a bunch of engineers.  The person that was making the judgment was somebody that worked in marketing. 

Interestingly, I had made the choice not to dress more sophisticatedly when I moved to engineering from marketing.  I purposefully changed my dress code.  However, this dressing change influenced somebody and their thoughts of me.  So, I decided to fix this by dressing both ways:  both upwards and downwards depending on the day.

However, this simple fact that most people struggle with judging by the book cover and not the book is something we will address as we go down the list.  Perception is often reality.

Example Of 10,000’ Projects:

What is a project?  A project is nothing other than something that you want to get done that is made up of a series of actions.  If it is one thing, it is an action.  If it is more than one action, you have yourself a project.

Projects and focus areas go together very, very easily.  More than this, you notice that to talk about focus areas effectively, I have actually inserted some of my projects into my focus areas descriptions.  The challenge, as you do this, focus areas can obviously lead you into projects.  The opposite is often true due to the way that you may stumble into projects, and then only later realize that the project that you picked up happened to support one of your focus areas. 

For example, when I talked about being sound mind and sound body, I talked about running.  I consider the goals as a higher level goal, and not one that you should be thinking about carefully measure.  The project, however, is something that should be measured.  In the case of run, my running project for 2013 is to run 500 miles.  This means that I have an action, 4 days a week, to run 3.17 miles, which is the local loop that I run in the morning.

Projects are very crisp.  You know when you hit the end of the project and you know when you are in the middle of the project.  I have a similar project for golf.  I want to walk 500 miles, which means that I need to walk my local golf course roughly 63 times.  However, in golf, we have a project that supports a variety of goals.  In my case, my golfing serves three goals in one project.

  • I use golf for my relationships:  Both work and my sons
  • I use golf for my activities: I burn calories that keeps my weight low
  • I use golf for my skills: If I am better than my peers it makes an impression

Example of Runway:

An action for today is to add to my typeracer score.  My action is to log into play.typeracer.com and race.

This is no more or no less than for me to spend some amount of time today doing races.  I may go for 15 minutes or 30 minutes.  However, sometime today, I need to do my races.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

"Body"–> Why Cablecards Don’t Work

The card off to the side of this paragraph is a “Cablecard,” which was supposed to be the answer to a more open cable industry. The guts of the Cablecard housing is in something called a PCMCIA container, which is one of the few computer acronyms that lived beyond being a TLA (Three Letter Acronym). In This case, the PCMCIA card stood for Personal Computer Memory Card International Association, which was very popular around the 1990s. The PCMCIA card was designed because it was one time believed that laptop users really needed the ability to upgrade their laptops in the same way that desktop users upgrade their systems with expansion cards. However, it was difficult to have a very large PCI (the desktop expansion) in a laptop, so a new standard was born. PCMCIA cards were to be the “expansion cards” for laptops. The PCMCIA slot was in almost every laptop during the 1990s, but it wasn’t used for the most part. The new Cablecard device looks to also be something that is created, but may proved to not be used.
 Cablecard was born out a federal law in the USA in 1996, which is called the Federal Communication Act.  The thought process is that the cable industry had a monopoly, and they needed to open up their networks so that you could buy equipment from somebody other than the cable provider, and still use your own equipment on the Cable providers network.  For example, if you get a cable company’s digital signal, you would normally need to buy a set top box from them to get service.  However, with a Cablecard, you can plug it into your own equipment to get your own box to receive cable.

Why would you want to do this?  Simply because it is cheaper.  In the











In the case of my own local cable company, Cox Cable, they charge $8.50 for a DVR.  A Cablecard costs $2.00 per month.  So, you save around $6.50.  It really isn’t much, but, as in so many other things in life, the reason is that it is cheaper at all is that the FCC said that cable operators must give a discount.  So, this is the discount that Cox gives.

I wanted to try for myself the installation of a Cablecard.  There is a Cablecard box out called Silicondust Homerun Prime, which had been getting some good reviews, so I thought this would be a good experiment to see if I could get it hooked up.
 
The Silicondust Homerun Prime is designed to work in concert with your personal computer, with the preferred software for this activity is the built in Windows Media Center.  If you don’t know, Windows Media Center was Microsoft’s strategy to move the PC into the family or living room.  Windows Media Center looks very different from the normal Windows experience, and it has been included for free in Windows since Vista.  However, this  about to change.  It is included in Windows 8 for free until January 31st, 2013. After this, it is going to be a $9.99 dollar charge to use.  So, before we go further in this blog, if it is not already past they due date, and you have Windows 8, you should go get it.

There is an excellent blog posting here about the details of getting this download, and I suggest you go and view it if you are interested in this update.  The main message is that there is both good news and bad news in the new Microsoft approach.  The good news is that Microsoft has not abandoned the Windows 8 Media Center work. Many people were afraid that Microsoft new that they had seen very poor acceptance of Media Center and would discontinue it.  The bad news is that they are charging for it, which indicates that they might be considering killing it as this is a good excuse for not developing it any more.  It will all come down to how many people are going to be willing to pay for the $9.99 download.  If enough people pay for it, Microsoft will continue to develop for it, and having a revenue stream is always a great excuse to put investment here.  The end answer is that this new strategy will flush out if Media Center is a viable software for the future, as it become debundled.

However, we are not just talking about my experience with Media Center, because after spending 3 days working on the problem, I am not even to this stage.  To rewind, I had bought the Silicondust system, and this meant that I only had to go to my local Cox cable store to pick up my Cablecard to enable the system.

Or so I thought.

I showed up at the store, and I had a quick and polite conversation with the woman working the counter.  She laid out that I needed to get a particular digital package to get high definition, and the Cablecard.  Setting up the Cablecard is not exactly simple.  While the Silicondust system is set up in a pretty cool fashion (and I decide that I didn’t want to be a leading edge guy, so I waited for a year after they had started this particular system before buying it), the Silicondust provider is clearly a start-up.  The documentation is a bit lackluster, and you really need to go to the forums to understand much of the details.

After hooking up the system, I had a bit of trouble actually understanding what you were to do with the system.  I have some type of signal coming into the system, but I didn’t know what to do with it. It turns out, at least in my case, you need to run two separate utilities to get the full view of the Silicondust system.
The first utility is the most helpful.  If is call the “Homerun config utility.”  After you have the Cablecard in the system, you need to run this utility to get the box configured.  Now, here is the strange part.  You have a Cablecard.  You got it from Cox cable.  However, it does not plug and play.  You need to plug it in.  Turn on the system, and then finally you need to call the cable provider to get them to turn the connection on.  Again, this just sloppy.  I’ve worked with computers for a long time, and you normally expect a system to work without turning it on in the backend.  However, once you have run the configuration utility, you can click on the first tab, and on the first tab you can click a special “web page” link.  This in turn brings up a local webpage that has a list of hotlinks. 

Once you get this local webpage (which pulls data from the Silicondust system), you can read off the the Cablecard ID, the Host Id and the other special numbers that are buried in your units.  After you have this data, you call up your local Cox center, and read these numbers off to them.  This then allows them to turn on your service in the backend.

I had called up the Cox service, and the first person had no idea what was going one, but I got transferred to somebody that did.  While I was getting some of the channels, I definitely was not getting all of the channels.  The support person didn’t seem to ask the right questions, but I had read enough of the Silicondust support forum, that I had heard about something that is sometimes needed called a “tuning adapter” or short hand called a “TA.”  The support person said, “Oh, yes, Cox uses switched digital video (SDV), and you need one of these to get the signal.”

Now, considering that I went to the Cox store to pick up the Cablecard, and they sold me the local video digital package, they should have offered up that I need an adapter to pick out the SDV channels.  But no, they had no idea that I needed both parts.  So, I wait for the next day, and I went back to the store.  I found the same woman, and I told her that Cox support said I needed a TA.  She never apologized for making me make a round trip, probably because she didn’t understand that this was not an option but a requirement for Cablecards.  Regadless, she disappeared into the backroom and came out a few minutes later with a Motorola DTR700.

This is the unit, and and I took it home to plugged it in.  The key about this TA (tuning adapter) is that it also needs to be turned on similar to the Cablecard unit that needed to be turned on.  The unit comes up with a flashing yellow light, then you are supposed to call up Cox cable to get them to hit the SDV TA with a initialization packet to get it to register to the network.  Once it is initialized, the yellow light stops blinking, then you are ready to get your digital signals.

However, when I did this with the technical support person, they tried to hit it, and the yellow light never went solid, indicating that it had been initialized.  I asked the person on the support line if he could see my unit to know if it was taking a signal.
“No I can’t,” he answered.  “I simply have to send a signal into the blind.”  After him trying a couple of times to get it paired up and working, he final declared that I must have a bad TA, and I should return to the store to get it replaced.  It was past the closing time, so I decided to go back the next day. 

When I showed up at the store, I was quickly replaced with a new unit.  I brought this home, and called up Cox to get it hit again.  This time I got a knowledgeable tech that wanted to get me up and running.  He said that he was going to pair the box, and get it initialized, but after he had tried it, he said, “I can see that it isn’t taking.”

Now, the tech from the previous day said that he was sending the signal into the blind, so I was very surprised when this person said he could see my box. 
“The tech the other day said that you don’t have the ability to see the box,” I said.  “Is there any reason why you can see it and he couldn’t?”  I could tell the guy was embarrassed, but he simply said, “I’m not sure what the other tech was seeing.”

However, although the Cox tech was hitting my box, he was not able to get it to get initialized. 
“I think we have a signal strength problem,” he said. 

The cool thing about the Silicondust system is that the configuration utility on the “tuner” tab has a little seek arrow.  if you hit the seek arrow, it starts to go through all the channels that are available.  Cable sends the digital signal out over what is called a quadrature amplitude modulation, or QAM.  The QAM has 256 channels (or 64 if older) and each channel has a sub-channel.  The tuner tab will look at any given channel and then show the Signal Strength, Signal Quality, and the Symbol Quality.  It will also tell you if data is being transferred and what speed it is coming in at.  Very cool data.

So, when the Cox guy said “signal problem,” I pulled up my utility, and looked at the signal strength.  Because my cable comes to my television through I long length of cable, I told him that I was moving to the internal patch box, to put the TA there and see if it helped the signal.  I moved it up to the patch box in my house, and the signal strength went up 1%.  This didn’t seem like much, and when he hit it again, it didn’t authorize.

So, I told him that I was going outside to the street, and I would patch in the box right at where Cox delivered the cable to me on the street.  Once I had gotten out to the street, I open up the box, and I started to patch in my TA.  I remembered that I had some problem with my Internet about 1 year ago, and the Cox guy had come in to repatch the connection.  As I hooked up the TA, I ran my utility and I found out that I was getting zero signal.  As I traced through the cables, I found out that to “fix” my internet, the Cox guy a year ago had disconnect some of my wires.  These were necessary for my internet, but were a “nice to have” if I had digital cable.  One of the big things is that the Cox guy from a year ago had disconnected a Scientific Atlantic amplifier.  These are good for cable, but bad for internet access.  So, while the Cox guy was on the phone, I rehooked up the cables, and I fixed the wiring so that I had both a raw and amped signal.
I then hooked up the TA to both lines, one at a time, and tried to get it to initialize. 

It never took.

So, after wasting many hours, and repatching cables, and so forth, the Cox guy said, “I’ll send a technician out to your house for no charge.”

Now, this is why Cablecards don’t work.  First off, Cox doesn’t give you the right parts.  Secondly, the technicians working the phone are not well educated.  Some know the tricks and others don’t.  Finally, you have no ability to get resolutions on how to get the TA initialized.

Is all lost?  Maybe not.  The cable guy comes tomorrow.  My guess is that he won’t be able to solve it on my end.  It is a backend problem.